It was World War II that placed plastics at the center of necessity. A rubber substitute called vinyl was used by Allied troops for waterproof tents and boots. An ultra-light insulation -polyethylene gave the British the ability to install radar on planes and ships and a critical advantage over the otherwise superior German Air Force and Navy. By 1979, plastic production surpassed that of steel, ushering in what Stephen Fenichell, author of Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century, calls the Plastic Age, a title as indicative of human progress as the Iron Age or the Bronze Age. Long-lasting super plastics are fast replacing metal in buildings, machines, and vehicles. The very endurance for which plastic was- celebrated, now haunts it. It is "the Rasputin of modern materials," says Fenichell. "You can break it, chop it, dice it, shred it, burn it, and bury it, but it stubbornly refuses to die." Eyen the plastics industry admits waste is a big problem, and a sub-industry of "green plastics" is trying to make plastics mortal. Polyethylene is a form of plastics. So management of post-consumer polyethylene shopping bags is a function of management of plastic wastes and an integral part of management of solid wastes.
It was only in the 1950s that plastics began to come into wide use in international arena, yet within few years, production has risen at an unparalleled rate. World consumption is now comparable with that of all non-ferrous metals.
Forecasts concerning the production of resins indicate that the economies of many developed and developing countries are increasingly relying on the use of plastics. In this regard the most intractable problem relating to plastics and the environment has been so far their disposal. Landfilling on one hand is increasingly seen to pose problems of environmental impact, because the availability of suitable sites is decreasing day by day. Moreover, the leaching of the plastic additives into the ground waters is now being questioned. On the other hand, uncontrolled burning of plastics including polyethylene in the dumping sites and other areas is not acceptable environment-wise. The controlled incineration of plastic waste is also raising concerns in some cases.
Polyethylene materials are not bio-degradable. Whenever a polyethylene bag is thrown away, it does not decompose through natural process. It contributes to the accumulation of non-destructive waste of permanent nature. If anybody looks at any garbage dumping site, he will observe this fact that although other garbage matter get decomposed and merged into the soil but polyethylene bags remain intact with their different colours especially the black coloured polyethylene bags. Polyethylene remains intact in the soil and disturbs the flow of nutrients to the soil and hinders entering sunlight. It destroys the beneficial bacteria of soil and losses soil fertility. It hinders the way of soil compaction, which in the long run effects the construction of foundation of the different structure.
The use of polyethylene is not environment friendly. Medical reports find it as an agent of cancer, skin diseases and other health problems. The users are more exposed to these types of health hazards when polyethylene is used to pack bread, biscuits, potato chips or other food items. In the developed countries, food is wrapped in food-graded plastic or polyethylene, but in Bangladesh this was not strictly followed and sometimes colorants are used, some of which may be carcinogenic.
Polyethylene industries for shopping bag production emerged in Bangladesh in early 80's and within a decade the industry reached in such a level that the jute bag production forced to be almost closed. The use of polyethylene shopping bags had been so enormous that one could find the polyethylene bags everywhere i.e in the street, dumpsites, drains, ditches, open-fields, roop tops, hanging from trees and overhead cables, floating on ponds, canals, rivers.
Survey report showed that near about 10 million polyethylene bags were used everyday and every year about 3000 million bags were dumped in Dhaka City alone. The steadily growing use of polyethylene bags posed an ominous environmental problem in the city as well as in rural areas. This enormous use of polyethylene bags led to - severe environmental impacts like soil degradation, loss of soil fertility, blocking up of drainage and sewerage systems, causing water logging and the spread of harmful microbes and bacteria. The worst example of adverse effect caused due to polyethylene bags was the delaying process of recession of flood water in Dhaka city during 1998.
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