Against the backdrop of the increasingly erratic behaviour of nature, the season of monsoon nowadays begins much ahead of its normal time. The otherwise blissful season in the country, now emerges as a dread to urban residences --- especially those in Dhaka and Chattogram. As has been seen in the last few years, monsoon begins striking Dhaka from May-June. And this is invariably followed by myriad types of woes for its residents. Water-logging is the most prominent of them.
With the capital's drainage remaining clogged for months during monsoon thanks to reckless use of polythene bags, Dhaka veritably becomes unliveable during the time. In spite of visibly stringent acts banning the use of polythene shopping bags, people continue to turn to these non-biodegradable products. Except brief intervals following the slapping of bans by the authorities, the environment-hostile shopping bags continue to come back. Apart from the cities and towns, many suburban and rural areas have reportedly been invaded by the poly-bag menace.
To speak pithily, Dhaka, the capital of the country, remains veritably swamped by this dreadful product throughout the year. The horrific face of the malady emerges with all its evil forces during the rainy season. Ranging from major roads, neighbourhood lanes and by-lanes to vast swathes of low-lying areas now remain flooded with stagnant water during monsoon. The city people's sufferings and ordeals have in the recent years reached such an extent that urban experts do not mince words when they declare Dhaka unliveable.
Environmental activists and groups have long been vocal about the imperative of strictly banning the use of polythene products. They still keep calling upon the government to act in the task of withdrawing all kinds of polythene bags from the market.
However, the authorities did not sit idle. At this point, many sufferers are reminded of the government ban slapped in 2002 on use, production and marketing of non-biodegradable materials. Besides, the Section 6(A) of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 (amended in 2002) imposed an absolute ban on the manufacture, import, marketing, selling, demonstration, stock, distribution, commercial carriage and commercial use of all kinds or any kind of polythene shopping bags, made of polyethylene or polypropylene. In the Act, a Section says that if anyone manufactures, imports or markets banned polythene bags, he/she would be awarded imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years or fined up to Tk 1.0 million or awarded both forms of punishment.
As deterrents this Act and Sections ought to have discouraged production and marketing of polythene bags in the country. But the initiatives eventually proved futile. Polythene shopping bags have staged a comeback in different forms with attractive designs and colours. The said Act doesn't seem to have created any noticeable impact on the poly-bags' use and production.
According to a recent Financial Express report, there are over 200 factories manufacturing polythene bags in Old Dhaka alone. Each factory in operation has a daily production capacity of about 500-700 tonnes of poly-bags of different categories. Moreover, the factories continue their production in two shifts daily. It has been revealed by Environment and Social Development Organisation, a research platform.
A lot of speculations and confidently uttered assurances fill the air; they are focused on bringing polythene bag alternatives to the market. Almost all of them are said to be evolved from jute. Unfortunately, the dream bags remain confined to laboratories or are found stuck in the experimental stage. On special occasions, the products are displayed at state-sponsored exhibitions. With the ceremonial displays over, the new-age biodegradable poly-bags go out of the sight of general people. Lots of knowledgeable people are found showing keen interest in these products, which are touted as far more refined and user-friendly than normal jute bags. Eventually finding the bags to be elusive, many environmentally conscious people's hopes for the new-generation polythene products got dashed, at least for now.
Meanwhile, a few highly industrialised countries have innovated biodegradable polythene bags. These are being used by people there. Had the authorities been serious about introducing jute-made poly-bags by extending infrastructural and financial support, the harmful polythene bags would have been phased out by this time. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. Given the reemergence of the product and its exponentially increased use by the people, their debilitating environmental impact is feared to continue for a long time in the future.
Bangladesh can take pride in its innovative scientists and researchers in different sectors. After their successful feat of genome sequencing of jute in 2013, their invention of biodegradable shopping bags finally deserved serious attention of the authorities. The scientists presumably did not receive the support. There were no follow-ups. The prospects for the great invention had apparently fizzled out. According to environmental groups, it's only the public awareness of the poly-bag-prompted water-logging in cities which can help stop mass use of these products. The critical issue which crops up here is the large-scale production of the substitutes. The other point is even if they are available at the shops could they be affordable to the common man? The imperative now is: starting production of the alternative green bags without delay.
At the same time the existing ban on the sale and use of conventional polythene bags ought to be made stringent and foolproof. As has been seen in many sectors in Bangladesh, unscrupulous elements always stand in the way of the launch of pro-public ventures. Environmental activists fear syndicates profiteering from poly-bag business may have begun obstructing the eco-friendly shopping bags' entry into the market. It's common knowledge, these racketeers act in collusion with a section of corrupt people in the administration. Dismantling their 'business mechanism' deserves to be among the government's prime tasks.
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