Plastic bags floatin the Buriganga river in Dhaka on 21 January 2020.
Plastic bags floatin the Buriganga river in Dhaka on 21 January 2020. AFP

Industrial waste and sewage from the city are all dumped into the rivers. The once fresh and flowing rivers like Buriganga and Karnaphuli, are now submerged in pollution. The other rivers of the country face the same fate. Recent research has brought an even more horrendous picture into view. And that is plastic pollution. In just the four rivers that surround the capital city Dhaka, 30,000 tonnes of plastic waste were discovered. Half of this was in the river Buriganga.

These facts and figures appeared in a World Bank-funded survey conducted by the non-government organisation, Waste Concern. Earlier, in 2018, the Asia Development Bank and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) listed Buriganga as one of the world's most polluted rivers. In 2020, according to the World Bank, Ganges, Padma and Jamuna together constitute the world's second-most polluted river basin.

According to the World Bank, plastic pollution is the second worst in the world in the rivers Ganges, Padma and Jamuna that flow through India and Bangladesh

Executive director of Waste Concern, Maqsood Sinha, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "Like the four rivers around Dhaka, rivers in other parts of the country are also heavily polluted by plastic. When we conducted a survey on the four rivers, we found there was no bar on dumping plastic and any waste into the rivers. These rivers have become garbage dumps."

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Plastic pollution increases during coronavirus pandemic

As in other countries, the air in Bangladesh too cleared to a great extent during the coronavirus pandemic. Carbon emissions have dropped by 4 per cent. Diversity returned to nature. But the plastic pollution in rivers has been devastating. Around 92 per cent of the gloves and masks used as protection against coronavirus, end up in the rivers after use.

According to the World Bank, plastic pollution is the second worst in the world in the rivers Ganges, Padma and Jamuna that flow through India and Bangladesh.

The World Wildlife Fund's report in August stated that every month from April this year, 129 billion masks and 6,600 gloves ended up in the sea, via the rivers. Previously, 800 million tonnes of plastic would be dumped in the rivers and end up in the sea. This kills 1 million sea birds and 1 million fish annually.

Every day about 73,000 tonnes of plastic waste were entering the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh
UNEP report
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300 types of plastic in the Bay of Bengal

The picture brought forward by National Geographic's recent study, 'Sea to Source' is even worse. A female-led team of scientists, conducting the research, found that 300 types of plastic were entering the Bay of Bengal through the river Padma. This included soda bottles, plates, labels of cosmetic products, jugs and more. These were dumped in various water bodies after use and later ended up in the Bay of Bengal via various rivers.

Director general of the department of environment AKM Rafiq Ahmed, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "The manufacturers of plastic products must collect the products after use and dispose of these in a safe place. The countries producing this plastic must take responsibility. We are tackling the task of controlling plastic pollution. We have launched a drive against polythene factories and the use of polythene."

In June last year, UNEP published a report on the global state of plastics, saying that every day about 73,000 tonnes of plastic waste were entering the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh. This is fifth in the world, in terms of volume. The source of this waste is China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, countries of Ganges, Padma and Jamuna basin.

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In a 2019 report of the NGO, ESDO (Environment and Social Development Organisation), it was said that there was presently 6.8 million tonnes of plastic waste in Bangladesh, on land and in water. Every day 3000 tonnes are added to this. It pointed to plastic and polythene bags as the main threat to the environment. It said that the rate in increase of organic waste in the country was 5.2 per cent, but for plastic this was 7.5 per cent. Even knowing that it was harmful to the environment, 61 per cent of the people used polythene bags in the country.

One of the members of the Source to Sea team, assistant professor of Dhaka University's department of biology, Gausia Wahidunessa Chowdhury, told Prothom Alo that the people of Bangladesh used plastic more due to the large population and also for economic reasons. Cheap environment-friendly alternatives to plastic needed to be innovated. Those using plastic must be made aware so that they do not randomly dispose of plastic products.

*This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here for the English version by Ayesha Kabir.