In 1950, the total global plastic production was 1.5 million tonnes, which increased to 365 million tonnes in 2019 and may double by 2050. Its advantages such as light weight, durability, price competitiveness, un-breakability, longer life and weight bearing capacity as well as easy technology to produce much and availability of raw materials make plastic goods popular.
Consumption of plastic per capita per annum is 105 kilograms in the USA, 114 kg in Japan, 130 kg in Australia and 111 kg in the UK. Such consumption in Bangladesh is 15-17 kg per annum.
Annually Bangladesh imports 1.8 million tonnes of plastic (2018), which is 0.30 per cent of global production. The country exports plastic goods worth US$119 million directly and US$600 million worth of goods are used in the manufacture of garments accessories, pharmaceutical packaging, textile packaging, food product packaging and so on for export and local consumption.
BASEL CONVENTION: Between 1970 and 1980 global concern was trans-boundary movement of waste and hazardous waste. There was civil society concern that many developed countries were dumping their wastage in least developed countries and mostly this was "toxic" waste. It was damaging human health and the people were suffering for many diseases. Some countries took advantage of the absence of international law and regulation.
To control the movement of waste and hazardous waste, delegates from different countries and civil society representatives had several session in Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm to formulate laws and regulation on the subject. Finally on March 22, 1989 they adopted a regulation titled 'BASEL Convention' which came into force in May 1992. Until recently, around 170 countries/parties including Bangladesh have ratified the convention.
On May 10, 2019, after two weeks of negotiations, some 1400 delegates agreed to include plastic waste into Basel Convention and agreed to develop a legal framework. Under the framework they agreed that any importing country receiving waste have the right to refuse if found mis-declaration and non-compliance and exporting country would be bound to take back the waste.
CHINA BANNED WASTE PLASTIC IMPORT: China was the largest buyer of global plastic waste of up to 56 per cent of waste plastic traded before it was banned in 2018. Most of these waste came to China from the USA, the EU, Canada, Germany and the UK. The Chinese government was burdened with 'unmanaged' plastic waste. It implemented Green Fence Operation in 2013 to monitor waste entering the country.
SOUTH ASIA ON TBM: Some South Asian countries have faced severe problems originating from plastic waste. After the ban in China, many plastic waste processors from China have relocated processing plants in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. At the beginning the respective countries failed to understand the consequences. But when they realised environment degradation and hazards in their countries they decided to ban and refused to accept plastic waste any more.
■ Thailand has temporarily banned plastic waste import and will impose total ban from 2021.
■ Malaysia has revoked all import permits issued, chasing all illegal processing plants. It formed a taskforce on illegal importation and returning of the waste to China, the Philippine and Indonesia.
■ Vietnam is no longer issuing any import licence and has banned plastic waste until 2025.
■ India has expanded it prohibition and ban on import of plastic waste.
■ The Philippines was very serious about the plastic waste import. The country refused to accept 67 containers of waste from Canada, a move that created diplomatic tensions between the two countries. The Filipino President, Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, said he was prepared to declare war against Canada over this issue and Canada eventually took back the containers.
■ Similarly, Malaysian government sent back many containers of waste plastic to originating countries including Bangladesh.
BANGLADESH POSITION ON TBM: Bangladesh has already developed a legal framework for controlling TBM of plastic waste.
■ The Import Policy 2015-2018 has prohibited importation of any kind of waste into Bangladesh.
■ Bangladesh is a signatory to the Basel Convention that has restricted export of waste, and hazardous and plastic waste.
■ The UNEA has adopted a resolution that waste must be recycled or reprocessed or disposed of in the country of origin. Bangladesh is also a signatory to this regulation.
■ Bangladesh is the first country to ban production and distribution of shopping bag or single use plastic bag.
Some other measure can be mentioned below on how Bangladesh can safeguard the environment.
Apart from rules, laws, regulation and legal framework, the government also needs to develop technical ability, methodology, make policy intervention whenever needed and build collaboration/partnership with experienced organisations to cope with the TBM situation. Because in the coming days we would need more protection for our environment, not only from plastic waste but also from electronic waste. For example new technology is being developed for home appliances which are more environment-friendly while older version may be sent to countries like ours at dumping price. So knowledge and awareness of the regulatory authority are important.
The Bangladesh government has taken following measures as action plan to safeguard environment; National Environmental Policy 1992, National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP) 1995 (updated in 1998), National Environmental Management Plan 1995, the Environment Conservation Rules (ECR) 1997, Polythene Bag Ban 2002, Solid Waste Management Handling Rules 2005 (draft), Lead Acid Battery Recycling and Management, 2009, the Mandatory Jute Packing Act, 2010, the Environment Court Act 2010, the Import Policy Order 2015-2018, and the draft Electrical and Electronic Waste (e-waste) Management Rules-2017.
■ Bangladesh should strictly follow the UNEA resolution adopted regarding TBM.
■ Combined efforts should be taken by all countries to face the situation and minimise wastage.
■ Most of the developed countries must find ways to bring back a circular economy - reuse of wealth.
■ Also more responsible for Co2 emissions, than countries like Bangladesh, the developed countries should take liability and stop TBM of plastic waste.
■ We must update ourselves with TBM policy framework to identify waste coming from within the country, make specific intervention of strategies, collaborate with originating countries (if exported to Bangladesh), give training to custom officers to identify waste, update knowledge of global waste movement, and cooperate with the environment ministry. Finally plastic waste must be handled by the authorities who handle cargo at the port of entry.
■ There is a lack of knowledge on export and import of hazardous wastes. So technical assistance is needed for strict control of TBM of hazardous plastic waste. So far, there is no space for disposal of hazardous waste and we lack logistic facilities for disposing.
Shamim Ahmed is a Vice Chairman at Bangladesh Institute of Plastic Engineering & Technology (BIPET).