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Study: Food, personal care products contribute 96% of single-use plastic waste in Bangladesh

  • Published at 11:48 pm October 21st, 2019
Plastic bag in water
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At the report release event, experts said the health and environmental risks posed by single-use plastic outweigh any economic gains from it

Every year, 86,707 tons of single-use plastic waste is generated in Bangladesh, of which 82,239 tons (96%) comes from food and personal care products, according to a new study. 

The study, “Single-use plastic: Hidden costs of health and environment in Bangladesh,” was released by the Environment and Social Development Organization (Esdo) at its office in Dhaka yesterday. The report was prepared after surveying 2,000 people from both urban and rural areas of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, and Sylhet in 2018 and 2019.

At the report release event, experts said the health and environmental risks posed by single-use plastic outweigh any economic gains from it. 

The report said 63% of single-use plastic waste is from food wrappers, 33% from sachets, 2.5% from restaurants, 0.8% from airlines and residential hotels, and 0.3% from straws.

In Dhaka alone, 12,269 tons of single-use plastic waste is generated from food packaging, 3,456 tons from sachets, and 96 tons from straws per year. 

Young people generate more plastic waste than children or the elderly, with 35% of single-use plastic waste coming from people between the ages of 15 and 25. About 78% of single-use plastic waste is generated in urban areas, with the remaining 22% being generated in rural areas.

Food wrappers, drink lids, straws, sachets, water bottles, bottle caps, and cigarette butts are the most common sources of single-use plastic waste in Bangladesh.  Most single-use plastic is completely unrecyclable and stays in the environment for thousands of years.

What the experts say

India announced a ban on all forms of single-use plastic in October 2019, and seeks to completely phase out single-use plastic products by 2022.  

Addressing the report unveiling ceremony, Esdo Secretary General Dr Shahriar Hossain said: “Bangladesh must follow the example of India and other nations in banning single-use plastic. Banning single-use plastic is a necessary move to protect the health and environment of Bangladesh. Fortunately, cost effective alternatives are widely available.”

Esdo Chairman Syed Marghub Murshed said: “Straws made from bamboo are being widely used and manufactured in the hill regions of the country. In Kushtia, compostable ice cream cups are produced from leaves. Local production of plant based alternatives to plastic can  help the environment and create job opportunities across the country as well.

Health and environmental effects

In Bangladesh , only 5% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.   About 9% has been incinerated while 86% has accumulated in landfills and ultimately ends up in the natural environment. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that 73,000 tons of plastic waste ends up in the sea through Bangladesh's major rivers: the Brahmaputra, Meghna  and Ganges. 

Single-use plastic contains additives. People are exposed to these chemicals during manufacturing and also through plastic packaging, as some chemicals migrate from the plastic packaging to the packaged food. 

Contamination from plastic packaging can lead to chronic health problems such as endocrine disruption, as well as lead to cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression, and development problems in children. 

Serious damage to the respiratory, renal, and cardiovascular systems can also be caused by the continuous use of contaminated single-use plastic products. 

The environmental impact of plastic includes air pollution, water pollution, water quality degradation, and a decline in soil fertility. Single-use plastic is also a major source of marine pollution, endangering the lives of thousands of aquatic and marine organisms.