Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban plastic and polythene bags in 2002
The use of polythene bags continues to run rampant in Bangladesh despite being banned by the government through an amendment to the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 in 2002.
Section 6(A) of the amended act imposed an absolute ban on the manufacture, import, marketing, sale, demonstration, stock, distribution, commercial carriage, and commercial use of all kinds of polythene shopping bags, including polyethylene and polypropylene bags.
The government has prepared a three-year action plan to enforce the ban, but it is yet to be implemented.
Dr Abdullah Al Mamun, deputy director (waste and chemical management) of the Department of Environment, said: “Following a High Court order, we made a three-year action plan and have already submitted it to the Environment Ministry. If they approve it, we will start working on it.
“There are many things to consider with the permanent ban on polythene bags, such as unemployment, the effect on the economy, and alternatives for the bags.”
Asked about the enforcement of the ban, Environment Minister Md Shahab Uddin said: “We are taking actions as much as we can. Polythene is still banned here; those who are using or producing polythene are doing it illegally. We will take strict initiatives as soon as possible.”
A study by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) found that only 10-15% of polythene and plastic bags are properly disposed of or recycled after use. Most of it ends up in drains, sewage pipes, and open areas, and this is responsible for up to 80% of Dhaka’s waterlogging problem.
According to the amended law, anyone found violating the polythene bag ban would face an imprisonment of 1-10 years, or a fine of Tk50,000-10 lakh, or both.
Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban plastic and polythene bags considering the drastic effect on the environment.
However, the country still ranked 10th among the top 20 mismanaged plastic waste producing countries in the world in 2017, according to a study by Golam Kibria, principal research fellow at the Applied Science Department of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.
ESDO blames government
Following a legal notice issued by the ESDO on the use of polythene bags, the High Court in 2020 issued an order to reduce use of the bags in 2021.
The court also ordered to make sure that the bags be completely removed from all restaurants and shopping malls, especially in coastal regions, by 2022.
The deadline to meet the court order has been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ESDO Secretary General Shahriar Hossain told Dhaka Tribune that the government was solely responsible for the rampant use of polythene bags. They failed to enforce the ban in nearly 20 years.
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“Despite the ban, people are still selling polythene bags because the enforcement authorities overlook the matter and are forgiving about it. The bag sellers are taking this opportunity to continue their illegal sales,” he said.
“I will not blame the police like other people, because the police are not liable until the Department of Environment issues instructions to them. We have the law but the government is not enforcing it yet, and that is why, only the government is responsible for this uncontrolled use of polythene,” he added.
Status of the ban
Sayeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), said: "The ministries are writing to each other at the moment. They are passing the letters back and forth.”
She mentioned that letters had been sent to all the coastal deputy commissioners recently asking them to stop the use of plastic and polythene bags at all kinds of hotels and restaurants.
"If they do not stop the use of polythene bags and plastics, there is no way but to launch legal proceedings again,” she added.