Incredible images from inside country's recycling crisis

Incredible photos have emerged illustrating the enormity of a country’s ongoing recycling crisis.

In Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka plastic waste has gone up to 586 tonnes a day in an increase of 424 tonnes since 2005, Dhaka Tribune reports.

The country has recently sought to ramp up plastic recycling to tackle the issue. But new photos published by AFP, which show small mountains of plastic bottles and waste inside a recycling plant in Dhaka, highlight the enormity of the challenge.

Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, told a workshop on Wednesday that addressing plastic pollution is “critical”.

Labourers sort through polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in a recycling factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on May 5, 2021. Source: AFP
Labourers sort through polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in a recycling factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on May 5, 2021. Source: AFP
Recycling plastic bottles has become a growing business over the last couple of years, representing a challenge and big new opportunity. Source: Getty
Recycling plastic bottles has become a growing business over the last couple of years, representing a challenge as well as a big new opportunity. Source: Getty

The workshop was part of an event with the Department of Environment (DoE) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to help Bangladesh achieve sustainable development goals.

Last year, Bangladesh’s High Court ordered the government to ban single-use plastics in coastal areas and in hotels and restaurants in one year to combat pollution.

But waste continues to mount. Bangladesh was among the first countries to ban the use of plastic and polythene bags in an effort to stop them collecting in waterways and on land – however the ban has had little success.

A girl looks on as she sits next to a pile of used plastic bottles in a recycling factory in Dhaka.
Bottles pile up in a recycling plant in Dhaka. Source: AFP via Getty Images
A worker sorts used plastic bottles in a recycling factory in Dhaka.
A worker sorts used plastic bottles. Source: AFP via Getty Images

'Extremely disheartening' waste in Dhaka

The Daily Star, a Dhaka-based newspaper, published an editorial on Saturday offering a scathing take on the news of Dhaka’s waste increase which it called “extremely disheartening”.

“This unbridled production of plastic waste is continuing despite promises from the highest levels of government to reduce pollution and ensure sustainable, green growth,” the editorial reads.

The paper reported in March the cost of dredging a local river went up by 19 per cent due to a thick layer of plastic from the riverbed.

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Some 7.5 million tonnes of plastic is said to be polluting Bangladesh’s waterways.

Most of the blame is being placed on the government with calls for the commitment to sustainability to be taken more seriously.

The mounting waste is also being blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, with plastic masks and gloves going straight in the bin before winding their way to waterways.

Bangladesh working with fashion labels to reduce waste

The country's textile industry is Bangladesh's principal source of foreign exchange earnings and the country has made moves for major fashion brands to use more recycled materials in their manufacturing.

The Circular Fashion Partnership, announced in February, brings together more than 30 international brands, Bangladeshi recycling firms and garment manufacturers in a push to reuse textile waste from clothing factories to create new products.

If successful, the initiative could be replicated in other countries, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, and help cut the broader fashion industry’s emissions, said the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), a nonprofit body that is leading the new scheme.

In 2018, the sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were just over 2 billion tonnes, a figure that needs to be halved by 2030, to be in line with global climate goals, said the GFA.

A man collects plastic bottle from polluted river Buriganga in Dhaka Bangladesh.
A man in a boat in Dhaka's Buriganga River collects plastic. Source: Getty Images

“Reducing environmental impacts such as GHG emissions and circularity go hand in hand,” said GFA spokeswoman Alice Roberta Taylor.

The partnership would cut carbon emissions from clothing production and demand for raw materials, which include fossil fuels, by slimming down the amount of waste and increasing the use of recycled materials over virgin materials, she noted.

Under the 2015 Paris climate accord, nearly 200 countries agreed to slash greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century and limit global average temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial times.

According to 2020 research by the GFA and McKinsey & Company, the fashion industry produces four per cent of global climate-warming emissions – equal to the combined annual emissions of France, Germany and Britain – and needs to intensify its efforts to align with the Paris Agreement goals to curb climate change.

Miran Ali, a director at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said it was time for the fashion industry to move away from a linear business model of “take-make-dispose” and towards a circular approach.

The Green Climate Fund, set up to help developing nations adopt clean energy and adapt to climate change, approved a separate project last year to help cut emissions in Bangladesh’s garment sector by enabling more efficient energy use.

H&M, one of the Bangladesh industry’s biggest clients, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it is working on transforming its whole business to become “fully circular and climate positive.”

with Reuters

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