At a time when dengue and floods are grabbing the headlines, Bangladeshi scientists have come up with one piece of satisfying news. A team of Bangladeshi scientists has invented plastic-like bags made with jute that can be a substitute for bags made from plastic proper. The invention envisages turning jute fibre into `low-cost biodegradable cellulose' sheets, which then will be made into `greener' throw-away bags replacing environment-polluting plastic. Experimental production of two thousand pieces of bags, named `Sonali', on a daily basis has already started under the auspices of the state-run Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC). We have also known that an agreement has already been signed with a foreign firm for the large-scale production and sale of the product and that successful commercial production will start in six months' time.
The world is turning more and more to eco-friendly products. There have been large-scale bans on the use of plastic shopping bags in the developed world. This is therefore an appropriate time to enter the world market with our own eco-friendly items. However, it is indeed a matter of great regret that even after a two-decade old ban on the use of plastic shopping bags in our own country, the absence of an alternative made the prohibition rather meaningless. Rivers in and around Dhaka and other cities are polluted by thick layers of plastic bags that threaten to throttle drainage and navigation. So BJMC's endeavour to come up with a green solution to the problem may only be welcome. People would hope that our scientists would take care so that the biodegradable bags that they are hoping to make would not contribute to environment-pollution through ending up in landfills, where decomposition occurs at a very slow rate. As some pessimists point out, may be rightly, that not all biodegradable items are compostable. This has to be looked into with certitude.
The Bengalis have a love and pride relationship with jute. Areas comprising Bangladesh once produced the largest quantity of jute in the world. It is of innumerable use in our households, especially in the countryside. Over the years, and traditionally, jute has inspired us to various innovations of use. Apart from its proverbial golden fibre, its stalk has been used as firewood in the villages or as wall-making material in the thatched domes; green leaves of the plant are vegetable items of relish to the connoisseur. That Bangladesh took the initiative in the establishment of the International Jute Organisation, and followed it by the International Jute Study Group, its successor, is no doubt proof of jute's important place in the Bangladeshi mind. Their very inception goes to prove the Bangladeshi's special relationship with anything called jute. The smell of jute fibre in times of its ripening in water bodies in the countryside is a traditional aroma that may seem incomprehensible to an alien, but is no doubt an environmental trait of the Bengali countryside. One of the greatest achievements of our jute-related science was accomplished a decade ago with the announcement of decoding of the jute plant draft genome sequencing. The green throw-away bag now is no doubt a milestone in that similar journey. It has been argued that Bangladesh's losing the top spot in world jute production is due to a lack investment in its technological side. This has to be looked into seriously and carefully. The jute scientists need further cooperation and help for production of more quality jute so that the eco-friendly bags they have created can cope with the demand not only abroad, but also at home. We wish 'Sonali' bags a thriving journey.