With jute, the sky is the limit
Why not jute? The government of Bangladesh had banned plastic packaging nearly 20 years ago, but nothing much has happened except that drains, canals, and rivers have become more and more choked with plastic.
Government departments have failed consistently to become more eco-friendly, more active in preventing pollution.
I think back 40 years when, on behalf of Oxfam Trading and championing “fair trade,” I used to visit Bangladesh to search out utility handicrafts from producer groups.
From the beginning of Bangladesh, Oxfam had supported and bought from organizations such as “CORR-The Jute Works.” 40 years ago, the Dhaka Airport Duty Free Shop, very sensibly, would provide jute bags for bottles and other merchandise, but later with the advancement of technology and more stringent security, bottles had to be packed in “see-through” plastic bags!
The authorities at every level have completely failed to enforce the ban on plastic bags or encourage jute packaging.
Oh yes, if you go to seminars run by the government or NGOs, you are likely to get a nice conference bag made of jute, but what about using jute/burlap bags for food grains?
Having qualified in farm management, I know that if grain is stored in bags which can “breathe,” the grain can be at 16% moisture content, whereas in plastic or bulk storage, it has to be 14% or lower to stay in good condition.
There are a number of NGOs that make attractive clothing from jute which is exported around the world, and indeed this trade should be encouraged and supported as much as possible by the government authorities.
Indeed, I have a beautiful multi-coloured waistcoat, made of jute and cotton and with natural dye colours.
When the ban on plastic was announced in 2002, many shops started using “netting” bags. But now everything is, again, put into plastic bags -- even things that do not need bags.
The shops should “charge” for plastic bags as they do in other countries, which might encourage the shoppers to carry their own shopping bags.
A survey last year estimated that over 400 million plastic bags are used in Dhaka each month and that a three metre thick layer of plastic bags is on the riverbed of the Buriganga River. These statistics are most frightening!
To make “Use Jute” an effective campaign, you need vigorous inter-ministerial cooperation so that all ministries are on the same page. Like climate change, it is essential that all ministries are involved when it comes to the use of jute.
Jute is already being used to make shoe uppers, lampshades, suitcases, paperweights, helmets, and even shower and bath units. Panels, false ceilings, and partitions are already in the market.
Jute composites are, I understand, used for covers of electrical appliances, pipes, post-boxes, roof tiles, and grain storage silos.
The construction of low cost, pre-fabricated mobile units that can be used in times of natural calamities such as floods, cyclones, and earthquakes has a huge potential in the subcontinent itself.
In addition, jute has been used to make different types of furniture. It would seem that the sky’s the limit.
To see a resurgence in the importance of jute during “Mujib Borsho” would be especially pleasing, because in 1972, only the export of jute could bring in foreign exchange.
Let the growers, workers at the jute mills, designers, and craftswomen and men join with government officials to make this an historic year.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.