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Combatting plastic pollution

05 Mar 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 05 Mar 2022 00:15:09
Combatting plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a pervasive and growing problem. Over the years, people have become increasingly reliant on plastic, which accounts for a large proportion of the total waste in Bangladesh. Indeed using plastic is very convenient, but we must realise that the non-biodegradable product poses a serious threat to public health. More often than not, plastic is thrown away indiscriminately after use, which degrades to microplastics. When released into the environment, it harms humans and ecosystems. Plastic wastes are entering into our food chain and throttling nature’s regeneration process. As is well-known, plastic never dissolves. So, these plastic wastes destroy the natural qualities of the soil, with the effect that with time, the latter loses its regenerative capacity. This will have a seriously adverse impact on Bangladesh’s food security in the long run. Already plastic pollution may have harmed many of our precious water bodies beyond repair. 

Not only Bangladesh, countries worldwide are faced with the menacing impacts of plastic pollution. Single-use or disposable plastic has become a global addiction despite its severe environmental consequences. Plastic is found throughout the oceans, lakes and rivers, soils and sediments, atmosphere, and animal biomass. This proliferation has been driven by rapid growth in plastic production and uses combined with linear economic models that ignore the externalities of waste. A sharp rise in single-use plastic consumption and an expanding “throw-away” culture have exacerbated the problem.

Against this background, it is reassuring to note that the world has come together to act against plastic pollution. International partnerships are crucial in tackling a problem that affects all of us. According to a report published in this newspaper on Friday, some 175 nations, including Bangladesh, agreed to form an international committee to discuss and finalise a legally binding treaty to eliminate plastic pollution by 2024 at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday. The mandate titled “End plastic pollution: Towards a legally binding international instrument” invites governments to negotiate a legally binding treaty that addresses the entire life cycle of plastic. Experts are describing this as being described as the most significant green deal since the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said, “Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics. This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord. It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it”. The Nairobi treaty has come at just the right time. The crisis demanded a new global treaty modelled on the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement. 

The treaty has special significance for Bangladesh as it was the first country to ban plastic bags 20 years back in 2002. However, there is a caveat here. Despite the ban on single-use plastic bags' use, production, and marketing because of their adverse impact on public health and the environment, such restrictions have not yielded any visible results. The use of plastics bags continues unabated. Non-enforcement of the existing laws and minimal vigilance from the authorities concerned are to be blamed for this unwelcome phenomenon. The lack of a cohesive policy on segregation, collection and recycling plastics is a major stumbling block in the path to rid the country of single-use plastic. 

The authorities concerned should pay more attention to scientific waste management methods and use techno-economic conversion technologies to recycle polymeric and single-use plastic. This will allow the authorities to convert plastic into useful products, clean the environment, and boost the country's economy. However, recycling has its limits. Indeed, a big chunk of plastic waste cannot be recycled because of a lack of segregation. Bangladesh should strictly enforce the ban on the use and production of single-use plastic bags. And in the long run, we should ditch plastic for greener alternatives.