With the growing use of plastic, the threat to the natural environment and human existence too is increasing ominously. So ubiquitous has become the plastic waste that it can be an unmistakeable mark of the Anthropocene epoch. It presents a frightening picture but global efforts to check the proliferation of avoidable plastic use are far from what is required. Bangladesh has tripled its plastic use over the past 15 years and its urban centres are producing three times as much plastic waste as they did in 2005, according to a World Bank (WB) study. If this is not frightening enough, let the attention be drawn to another study result. It claims that the world produces 300 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, which is almost equivalent to the weight of the entire human population on Earth.
True, some of the plastic uses are unavoidable because they save lives and have no other alternative. But where it is objectionable is its random single use. Half of the plastic produced across the world is meant for one-time use and then thrown away, not disposed of in a scientifically safe and environmentally friendly manner. Casually and carelessly thrown away, 60 per cent of the more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has ended up, research finds, in 'landfill or the natural environment'. Harmful human footprints of the Anthropocene era are far too conspicuous than was permissible. The human race is inviting its own peril on the plastic front in the same way it is doing so by burning fossil fuels to unrelentingly contribute to the global warming or climate change. The prediction is dire: by 2050, there will be more plastic waste than fish in the oceans. Already, granules and large pieces of plastic have been found in the stomachs of small and large fish like whales respectively. In most cases, the plastic has been the cause of their death.
Happily, Bangladesh has come up with a national action plan (NAP) for sustainable plastic management. Titled, "Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management in Bangladesh", it was unveiled on Monday last. The plan seeks to address the piling plastic problem in three phases ---short, medium and long, focusing and expanding on three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle). In this connection, a ban on single-use plastic was supposed to be effective from this year but at the suggestion of the WB, a complete ban will be imposed on this particular variety of plastic from 2026. Given the failure to enforce the prohibition on the use of polythene shopping bags, there is a need for involving people's participation in the campaign against single-use plastic as well as strict monitoring and appropriate measures against violation of the provision.
No law can be effective unless people are convinced of the merit of the measures and there is an alternative to what has been handy and useful. Already an alternative to polybags has been developed from jute. Its commercial production and further research for cutting cost alongside diversifying products to be used for packaging and manufacturing bottle corks should be encouraged. Similarly, environmentally friendly materials proving an alternative to plastic should be promoted.