How to implement the ‘3Rs’ in tackling plastic pollution

The World Bank has suggested a comprehensive three-phase plan to tackle the spiralling plastic waste problem in Bangladesh.

The National Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management (NAP), which is aligned with the country’s 8th Five-Year Plan, was based on needs collectively identified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Department of Environment, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

The plan was disclosed in a World Bank report, titled “Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management in Bangladesh, unveiled yesterday. The plan is split into short (2022-2023), medium (2024-2026), and long-term (2027-2030) phases, all of which focus and expand on the 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) method.

According to the report, Bangladesh produces an average of 9kg of plastic waste per capita in urban areas. Dhaka alone produces 24kg of plastic waste per capita, which is three times higher than in 2005.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened plastic pollution as a large portion of the single-use plastic used in masks, gloves, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was dumped in water bodies and rivers, It added.

The short term will focus on drafting guidelines on plastic packaging, anti-litter regulations and formulating a pilot project on Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR), including industry co-funding on plastic waste collection. 

Over the medium term, the government has been advised to offer tax rebates and subsidies for research and development initiatives on alternatives to plastics, as well as additional charges for plastic products that have viable alternatives 

The World Bank also stressed the importance of recognizing producers who adopt environment friendly business practices by providing them with environmental certification, and labelling plastic products to clearly denote differences in their quality, longevity, and proper methods of disposal.

According to a High Court guideline, the DoE was supposed to implement a ban on single-use plastics from 2021. As the ban is yet to be implemented, the World Bank suggested full enforcement of the ban on single-use plastics by 2026.

The long-term phase includes an ambitious target to make all packaging materials reusable, recyclable or compostable. Furthermore, it calls for the introduction of the 3Rs in the national curriculum, as well as a refund scheme for customers who return plastics.

The NAP sets a target of recycling 50% of plastics by 2025, reducing targeted single-use plastics by 90% by 2026, and reducing plastic waste generation by 30% by 2030 from the 2020-21 baseline.

Addressing the launch event, World Bank acting country director for Bangladesh Dandan Chen said: “With rapid growth and urbanization, Bangladesh faced a sharp increase in both plastic use and pollution. The Covid-19 pandemic has escalated the problem of mismanaged plastic waste.

“Going forward, sustainable plastic management—from designing a product, to minimizing plastic use, to recycling—will be critical to ensure green growth for the country. We commend the government’s commitment to implement a National Action Plan to beat plastic pollution," he added.

Speaking as the chief guest, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin said: “By strengthening the 3R approach, a circular plastic economy can contribute to the promotion of a green growth pathway in Bangladesh, delivering economic gains that are both environmentally sustainable, and socially inclusive.”

Bangladesh was the world’s first country to ban plastic shopping bags, but the ban was never effectively implemented. The Jute Packaging Act 2010 for six essential items (paddy, rice, wheat, maize, fertilizer, sugar) promoted an alternative to plastic packaging but met with issues the contents of jute packaging may spoil when the packaging starts to decay. 

In 2020, the High Court directed the authorities concerned to ban single-use plastics in coastal areas, hotels, and motels across the country.

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