The Financial Express

Managing plastic waste

Managing plastic waste

The country's plastic goods manufacturers have urged the government not to allow import of waste or scrap plastic items to avoid adverse impacts on the domestic industry and the environment. Although import of plastic waste is prohibited in the country, the call came in view of the request from some quarters to allow import of the product/s. Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA), a group of over 2,100 plastic goods manufacturers, has recently written to the commerce ministry seeking its intervention in the matter immediately. Since the country's Import Policy prohibits plastic waste import, it is unlikely that the ministry would revoke the policy for no good reason. The important issue here is the burden of waste management that the country is not in a position to tackle despite the increasing need for scraps and wastes to re-engineer those into fresh products.

Plastic waste, needless to say, wreaks havoc all over the world threatening life and livelihood of people by way of causing serious environmental degradation -- not all of which are simple and easily visible. In the developed West, management of plastic waste is a continuously evolving process, and many of those countries are in a position to curb the damage fairly well through various recycling methods with technology as their key aid.

In our case, the situation of plastic waste recycling is a grim reflection of severe environmental hazards posed by the plastic industry on the one hand and by the general masses on the other.  Although the government is providing tax exemption on account of recycling, and reduced bank loans are also being availed of by some of enterprises for the purpose, recycling is appallingly low. A study conducted in this regard some time ago says that only a small volume of the plastic waste meant for recycling is actually recycled leaving the bulk of the harmful stuff to cause environmental degradation, soil erosion, water-logging and so on. The study, however, mentions that with the facilities and technology currently available in the country, 50 per cent of the waste material could be recycled, if properly made use of. 

Findings of the aforementioned study conducted by a private research body, Waste Concern, reveals that as much as 72 per cent of the plastic waste is not recycled. The study further mentions that this high volume of waste, not properly disposed of or recycled, deprives the country of substantial earnings which could be to the tune of Tk 61.50 billion annually. The yearly production of the country's plastic factories, from well over 5,000 units, is approximately 4.0 million tonnes, of which more than 1.0 million tonnes turn into waste. But the volume of waste recycled, according to the study, is only around 28 per cent.

This, no doubt, is the flip side of the prospects of the plastic sector that explains the fact that efficient waste management is integral to exploiting the prospects of plastic manufacturing. It is this urgency that prompted speakers at a recently held webiner to stress upon collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector towards working on an effective waste recycling and management policy. This, experts believe, is the key to flourishing of the country's plastic industry. While improvements in infrastructure, product development are integral to the growth of the industry to desired levels, waste management and recycling are some of the critical areas in need of urgent attention. It has been found that of all types of waste, accumulated on a daily basis in the country, the share of plastic is more than 60 per cent. However, doing away with the waste is relatively easier compared with those from other sources due to the user-friendly recycling technology. But in the absence of systematic methods of collecting the waste and recycling facilities, the bulk of the waste is left to pollute the environment.

One of the key benefits that most countries derive from recycled plastic waste is a substantial saving on procuring raw materials and increased earnings from recycled products. Findings of the aforementioned study prove that if the waste of plastic factories in and around Dhaka alone are recycled with appropriate technology, 75 per cent of the waste could be tuned into fresh products, which would amount to saving around Tk 7.0 billion in foreign exchange. This indeed explains that an added focus on recycling and growth of the country's plastic sector are mutually inclusive and reinforcing.

So, waste management is, in other words, the key to a sustainable plastic industry in the country. The government had banned use of plastic bags, which was temporarily successful on account of overseeing mechanism, did not last long enough. The decision of introducing jute bags instead of those made of plastic and synthetic materials also died down due to lack of efforts from various concerned quarters. For sometime now, there are talks from relevant quarters to have a plastic hub in a suitable location, fate of which is not known.

In the light of the forgoing, it is critically important that plastic waste management beside its beneficial impact on the environment can be a boon for sustaining the growth of the country's plastic sector.

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