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Sonali Bag Biodegradable Alternative To Polythene

By Md. Zillur Rahaman
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The Sonali Bag (Golden Bag) is a cellulose-based biodegradable bioplastic alternative to plastic bags, particularly polythene bags, developed by Mubarak Ahmad Khan, a scientist of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. The cellulose used in Sonali Bags is extracted from jute, a major vegetable fiber crop grown across the globe. The bag not only looks and feels like plastic but is also compostable and completely biodegradable. Mubarak Ahmad Khan invented the bag from jute in 2017 which is not only eco-friendly but also affordable in price. The new jute-made bag, which is as handy as polybag, is supposed to have a huge potential for successfully ending the use of polythene in our country and save our environment.
Polythene bags were banned in Bangladesh in 2002 because of environmental concern. The legislation added impetus to the research and development of natural fiber composite (NFC) material as an alternative to polythene. Mubarak Ahmad Khan developed a range of NFC material in a decades-long effort. Subsequently, in 2018, Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) started the commercial production of Sonali Bag using a Jute-based NFC.
It is not only the law enforcement agencies who are to blame for the growing market of polythene or plastic bags in the country. The environment ministry has also failed to keep its political commitment in this regard. When polythenes were banned in 2002, baby taxies (petrol-run auto rickshaws) were also banned in Dhaka. We saw them disappear. Baby taxi never came back to the capital as citizens got the alternative CNG-operated auto rickshaws in the city.
There is no reason to believe that the law enforcement agencies are unaware of the operations of more than 50 polythene bag factories in Kamrangirchar and nearly 100 wholesale sellers operating in Chawk Bazar. In addition, the mobile courts are also authorised to take action against sellers and traders of plastic bags. But that never worked fruitfully. The Environment Protection Act of 1995 provides imprisonment of 3 to 5 years and a fine of minimum Tk 50,000 upto Tk 1 million for production, marketing and use of polythene bags. The directives are only on paper based.
But the policy makers concerned are aware that a Bangladeshi scientist has invented 'Sonali Bag' long ago that could help to enforce the polythene ban and meet consumer demands simultaneously. To meet the demand, the scientist has been asking funds from various government departments to start up its commercial production. High-level policymakers, including the environment minister, have acknowledged that. The commercial potential of the jute bags is high. And not only in terms of meeting the needs of Bangladesh, this bag will have demand in many other countries of the world. This is not unknown to policy makers that several developed countries, including Japan, have shown interest in importing Bangladeshi Sonali bags.
If we talk about polythene bags, these are handy and affordable which have widely been used in the market of our country for packaging products for years. However, these bags are very harmful for the environment and human health. The chemical used in polythene and tissue bags can pollute air, plants and water. Polythene decreases the fertility of farmland and affects the biodiversity in many ways. Not only that, polythene bag is not degradable; it takes at least 400 years to decompose in earth. These bags are also clogging the drainage system and creating water logging in the capital and other places in Bangladesh. Plastic bags are bad for wildlife. Plastic bags can choke or poison fish, animals and birds, with marine wildlife particularly vulnerable.
Plastic bags are non-biodegradable, and are extremely hazardous to the environment. They take several years to decompose but Jute bags are made up of natural, biodegradable materials and these do not pose any danger in the environment. These do not release any toxic substances into environment during their degradation. However, the chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural processes of degradation and as a result they are slow to degrade. Together, these two factors have led to a high prominence of plastic pollution in the environment.
According to the experts and market analysts, the jute-made 'sonali bag' can put an end to the usage of harmful polythene bag, encourage environment-friendly packaging, reduce dependence on import of biodegradable bag and polythene bag and can generate huge remittance if exported. The food packaging and beverage packaging market is expected to play a crucial role in driving the overall global biodegradable packaging market. Meanwhile it is hoped that farmers can now earn a huge amount of money by selling jute crops if the jute made poly-bag is produced in large scale and marketed in the country and exported abroad.

(Mr. Rahaman is banker and freelance contributor).

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