Karnaphuli and Rupsa contain highest plastic waste

Thousands of tonnes of waste is being dumped in the Karnaphuli river through the Chaktai and Rajakhali canals everydaySowrav Das

Air and plastic pollution is worsening in Bangladesh, particularly in major cities. The level of air pollution in cities like Dhaka exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) standard by 16 times. Additionally, the per capita plastic consumption in Dhaka has significantly increased from 9 kilograms and 200 grams in 2005 to 22 kilograms and 250 grams in 2022.

This surge in plastic waste is causing severe environmental damage as a significant portion of it accumulates in nature. Moreover, among the coastal rivers in the country, the highest percentage of plastic waste is found in Chattogram's Karnaphuli River, accounting for 39 per cent, followed by Rupsa River at nearly 32 per cent

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) recently revealed these findings in a study. The initial data of the study were presented during a workshop held at the CPD office in Dhaka on Sunday. Furthermore, reports indicate that Bangladesh stands tenth among the 20 nations worldwide where used plastic materials are irresponsibly dumped. Consequently, this plastic waste is negatively impacting the country's soil, water, aquatic life, vegetation, and contributing to waterlogging.

CPD research fellow Syed Yusuf Saadat read out the research findings. Journalists from various media attended the workshop.  CPD executive director, Fahmida Khatun, delivered both the opening and closing remarks. The workshop titled "Promoting green cities through building awareness on air and plastic pollution" was held as part of CPD's Green City Initiative project.

In the opening speech at the workshop, Fahmida Khatun said, “Air and plastic pollution in Bangladesh is becoming a major problem. Both our government and non-governmental organisations are working to contain this problem. However, for more effective implementation of these actions, the overall situation needs a proper evaluation. CPD is conducting this study for that purpose. It will be a policy aid for government and non-governmental organisations."

According to the study, during the monsoon, rainwater flows into the river through 65 canals. However, 22 of these canals have now turned into dumping sites for plastic and polythene waste. Consequently, waterlogging in Dhaka is on the rise as the rainwater is unable to drain away.

Each year, approximately 1 million tonnes of plastic waste accumulates in the coastal rivers of Bangladesh, leading to the generation of microplastics in the stomachs of fish in these rivers. As a result, these plastic particles enter the human body through fish consumption, resulting in various health issues such as high blood pressure and cancer.

Among coastal rivers, Karnaphuli in Chattogram has the highest amount of plastic waste, at 39 per cent followed by Rupsa River, about 32 percent. Most of the coastal rivers of Bangladesh originate in other countries upstream. Plastic waste is coming to Bangladesh from other countries through these same rivers.

The study also found that the use of masks and gloves has increased among people after the Covid-19 pandemic. These products are thrown away after being used once. These products are mostly made of plastic. Those used products contain germs for at least three days. As a result it pollutes rivers and soil and spreads germs to other people.

The study highlighted the economic impact of plastic pollution by emphasising its effects on the coastal regions, which are popular tourist destinations. The presence of plastic pollution has deterred tourists from visiting these areas.

The tourism sector is experiencing a significant loss of USD 20 million per year. In 2020 alone, the Department of Environment spent USD 38 million to clean up the plastic waste. This expenditure accounts for approximately 30 per cent of the annual budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change.

Reporters pointed out the lack of government data on plastics and air pollution in the workshop. They also said that the real data on the brick kilns and number of vehicles emitting black smoke, reportedly the major source of air pollution, is not available.

At the same time, a lot of air pollution is caused by the construction of large infrastructures like metro rail and flyovers and privately-owned buildings. The Department of Environment is not seen to be active in curbing these.

Journalists said that the environment department provides one-day-old data on air pollution, while international organisations are providing up-to-the-minute and area-wise data. Apart from this, the pollution is increasing due to the weakness of the government agencies.