The theme for the World Environment Day, 2018-"Beat Plastic Pollution"- is a call to action for us so that we come together and combat one of the major environmental challenges of the present times. The term 'plastic' has been derived from the Greek words "Plastikos" and "plastos". It is a polymeric substance whose molecules are quite large, sometimes resembling long chains made up of a seemingly infinite series of interconnected links.
Environmentally, plastic is a rising threat as most of the plastics are made up of natural gas or petroleum, non-renewable resources extracted and processed using energy-intensive techniques that severely harm the ecosystem. The production of plastic and its destruction through burning generally pollutes the air, water and land. The United Nations is committed to considerable reduction of plastic waste by 2025 while the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) urges a precautionary approach towards the micro plastic management with a crucial phase-out and ban of their use in the personal care products. Worldwide one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased per minute and 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used each year.
At present, Bangladesh is paying a heavy toll because of insufficient and unplanned plastic management practices. One of the major components of solid waste in the urban areas is plastic.
Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world with fastest growth in consumption of plastic products during the last few decades. From 2005 until 2015, manufacture and consumption of plastic products in its urban areas has increased by 169 per cent, though the overall national consumption has increased by 16.2 per cent. The consumption of plastic in Bangladesh is likely to increase in the coming years primarily due to an increase in the overall population and per capita income of the people, particularly in the urban areas.
There is no legal framework to prevent plastic-induced pollution in Bangladesh. However, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 in its section 6A contains provisions regarding "restrictions on manufacture and sale of articles injurious to environment" which indicates the types of industrial waste generated by the industries that cause environmental pollution.
In the case, K. M. Asadul Bari vs. Bangladesh (2002) [22 BLC (HCD)], several businessmen challenged the government decision to ban the manufacture of polythene bags in Bangladesh on the ground that the government failed to notify them beforehand and it fatally infringed their right to legal protection. But, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh allowed the government to impose a ban on the manufacture of polythene bags to stand on the grounds of ensuring a safe environment. The Court had argued that its concern should always be more for the betterment of the whole nation than for the financial detriment of some individuals.
A few handy measures have also been taken to deal with plastic products and industrial wastes in Bangladesh. A number of initiatives have been taken to improve waste management in the urban areas. For instance, in 2012, the Department of Environment (DoE) introduced a pilot source segregation of waste project by adopting the concept of 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycling).
Again, the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO) introduced the policy advocacy and public awareness campaign on plastics and microbeads in 2015. Moreover, in order to promote green products and projects in the country, the Bangladesh Bank included 'Plastic Waste Recycling Plants' under its Green Banking refinancing scheme. The development partners like UNICEF and JICA are providing financial support for the management of plastic and solid waste in Bangladesh.
While plastic is a vital material that helps in production and packaging of essential items, its mismanagement creates different types of negative impacts on other sectors of the economy. Since plastic is a non-biodegradable product and cannot be dumped in the ground, its recycling is a crucial factor for conserving the natural environment and ecosystem. As such, Bangladesh can take lessons from the waste management practices being followed by its neighbours.
Arif Ahmed is a Senior Lecturer of Law at Southeast University and an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh
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