Polythene bags strike back
WHEN the ban on polythene bag was imposed in January 2002 on the ground of its multidimensional threat to the environment, it was widely acclaimed and appreciated. The ban did follow reasonably comprehensive and concerted actions against manufacturing, marketing, sales, distribution, etc of polythene bags. Factories were closed, wholesalers and retailers fined. People at large seemed ready to endure the immediate inconvenience that the ban caused— after all, polythene bags had been provided free with whatever they bought and thus spared them the pain of carrying bags to the market—in the hope that the authorities would arrange for alternatives. However, the alternatives that were offered subsequently proved to be unsustainable. While jute bags came with price tags, other options, e.g. bags made of cotton, paper, etc, were not inconvenient. In the resultant vacuum, polythene bags started to make a comeback. Meanwhile, in January 2010, the Department of Environment had allowed manufacturing of three categories of polythene bags for transporting fish fries, preserving mushrooms packaging food items, in the process giving rise to confusion about which types could be used and which could not. Such confusion was even better for the polythene bag manufacturers and sellers. Now, more than 11 years since the ban, polythene bags of almost all types are back — perhaps stronger than ever — and so is the fear of environmental degradation and public nuisance that they cause.
According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, green groups blame the resurgence of polythene bags on monitoring and enforcement lapses of the authorities — and rightly so. However, that seems to be just one side of the story. A retailer was quoted in the report as saying that 300-350 factories in the capital Dhaka currently manufacture polythene bags, which tends to indicate that there is a huge demand on the market for such products and that the alternatives envisaged by the authorities, e.g. jute bags, have failed to gain traction in society. The reason may not be too difficult to discern. As the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation director pointed out, a Tk 8-10 jute bag cannot be an alternative to a free polythene bag. In other words, until and unless a cheaper alternative is provided, consumers will always opt for polythene bags regardless of the fact that they are illegal and harmful for the environment and public health.
The authorities need to realise that while strict enforcement of the ban is imperative, equally important is providing affordable alternatives to the consumers. It would be unrealistic to expect that people would buy environment-friendly bags out of environmental awareness, especially when the cost of living increases almost every day, and that too by no insignificant degree.
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