Polythene- an extreme threat to environmental protection
By Md. Zillur Rahaman
June 5 is World Environment Day. The day has been celebrated worldwide every year since 1974. It is known that on May 20, 1968, the Swedish government sent a letter to the United Nations Economic and Social Council to protect the environment. The subject of the letter was their deep concern about nature and environmental pollution.
In the same year, the United Nations included the issue of environmental protection in the agenda of the General Session. The following year, the United Nations Human Environment Conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 5 to 16, 1972, with the consent of the member states to discuss in detail on environmental protection and seek solutions. The conference was recognized as the first international conference on environment in history. The first day of the conference in 1974, the United Nations declared 5th June as 'World Environment Day'.
There is no end to the global concern for environmental protection, just as there is no end to publicity and research. But polythene is currently one of the most widely blamed elements for global environmental pollution. It is an extreme threat and a huge challenge to protect the environment and biodiversity.
For this reason, almost two decades ago, the government of our country banned the production, marketing and use of polythene in Dhaka city on January 1, 2002 and from March 1, 2002 in the whole country. Although the use of jute and paper bags has been noticed for some time, but the use of polythene has become widespread again due to lack of publicity and public awareness. The situation is such alarming that it is impossible and unimaginable to go to the market empty handed and return home without 8-10 colored polythene bags.
Basically, more than 1 million polythene bags are used every minute in the world and about 5 lakh crore per year. Only 1 percent of it is processed for recycling and 10 percent is dumped at sea. These polybags do not rot in a hundred years and do not mix with the soil, which has serious negative impacts on a huge number of birds, all biodiversity and aquatic animals besides human beings. Polythene is made of a material which is not at all suitable for environmental protection.
Therefore, in our own interest and to protect the environment, the use of harmful polythene bags should be stopped. Because these are seriously polluting the water and soil, it is entering the human body in various ways and causing cancer.
As an alternative, the use of jute polybags should be increased. Poisons emit toxins called polyphenols and mix with food and it does not mix with soil, but rather loses soil fertility. It thrown in the dustbin falls into the drain with rain water and the result is waterlogging.
It accumulates at the bottom of the river and fills the river bed and burning polythene causes air pollution. Commercial production of polythene started in Bangladesh in 1982. Due to the excessive use of polythene, the sewerage system in various cities of the country, including the capital, was severely disrupted in 1998. As a result, the country enacted a law in 2002 banning the production, marketing and sale of polythene bags.
Polythene is cheap but its alternative is the invention of golden polybags made of jute, but it is not possible to control the use of polythene due to lack of government initiative and apathy. Polythene bags produced through recycling of waste materials are not only poisoning the food items, but also the main reason for the every year waterlogging in the cities during the monsoon is the uncontrolled use of polythene bags. Because the city's sewerages are filled with polythene and waterlogging is caused due to polythene.
According to a study, 14 million polythene bags are being deposited every day in Dhaka alone and used polythene is melted down and reused to contain toxic chemicals, which can lead to complex diseases including cancer, skin diseases, liver and kidney damage.
The main ingredient of polythene bags is synthetic polymer made from petroleum. About 4 percent of the world's mineral oil is used each year to make these huge polythene bags. One study found that burning a ton of jute bags or sacks released 2 gig joules of heat and 150 KG of carbon dioxide into the air.
On the other hand, burning one ton of polythene bag releases 63 giga joules of heat and 1340 tons of carbon dioxide into the air. According to Dhaka WASA, 1 billion polythene bags in Dhaka alone are abandoned under the ground. As a result, new layers are being formed under the soil, which is disrupting the normal flow of water and oxygen to the surface, destroying the crop's ability to produce grain.
At the same time, polythene contributes to the continuous heating of the earth's surface by chemical reactions, which causes earthquakes, lightning, and ultraviolet radiation. Considering these disadvantages, the World Health Organization has recommended the use of eco-friendly jute sacks or bags for packing food grains and sugar.
Although the mills are fined for environmental pollution or the administration's role in polluting rivers and reservoirs or occupiers is obvious, there is no strict enforcement of the law to prevent the use of polythene. Due to this, the use of banned polythene is increasing at an alarming rate. Although more awareness is needed to stop this crime, the law enforcement needs to be increased. Otherwise its production, marketing and use cannot be stopped. Due to lack of proper implementation of this law, unscrupulous traders have been freely producing and marketing banned polythene.
Besides, a type of tissue polythene is being produced with the raw material of polythene at present. Producers say it is 'environmentally friendly'' but a BUET experiment found that tissue polythene, like polythene, is "deadly harmful" to the environment. However, the newly invented eco-friendly jute polybag can be easily used as an alternative to polythene, all it takes to government initiative and goodwill.
Some 72 countries of the world including Bangladesh have banned the use of polythene. Although all countries have imposed penalties on the use of polythene, the use has not been stopped.
The Kenyan government issued a law to arrest anyone who saw polythene in their hands. The Irish government has imposed additional taxes to reduce the use of polythene bags. Portugal and Spain have also taken similar steps. Provisions were made to arrest anyone found with polythene at Ugandan airports, but this could not be implemented for long as alternatives to polythene were not known.
While environmentally harmful polythene bags have become a cause of concern around the world, this natural jute polybag will help reduce the world's environmental pollution.
If we can use this demand of the world to produce jute polybags, it will start a new trend in the economy of Bangladesh, as well as protect the polluted environment in our polythene bags. Now the use of paper and jute bags can protect our environment from the horrors of polythene.
As jute polybags are eco-friendly and affordable, so extensive publicity is needed in the mass media with the government monitoring for the banning of the production, marketing and use of polythene.
Besides, it is necessary to build a polythene-free Bangladesh to protect the environment by considering the positive sides of jute and paper bags, affordable prices and easy availability.
The writer is a Banker and Columnist