Over the last seven years, the government has gradually introduced regulations that made jute packaging mandatory for 19 agricultural products to reduce polythene and plastic bags. But the parties in the supply chain are not following the regulations properly, rather continuing to use environmentally harmful polythene and plastic bags.
The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) – which sells daily essentials – is also among the offenders who do not follow the government’s regulations. As a result, jute sacks produced by the government remain unsold and unused, and every year the government is facing hundreds of crores of taka loss.
Ashraf Hossain Chowdhury, Deputy General Manager (Accounts & Finance) at the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation said there is about Tk700 crore worth of unsold jute sacks in stock.
At first in 2013, Bangladesh government ordered the use of jute packaging for six products – paddy, rice, wheat, maize, fertilizer, and sugar – aiming to increase jute use to support the struggling sector, and cut down the rampant pollution caused by plastic bags. The order was a culmination of the Mandatory Jute Packaging Act 2010.
Four years down the line in 2017, the rules were amended to add another 11 commodities – chili, coriander, onion, ginger, garlic, pulses, turmeric, potatoes, flour, and rice bran. In 2018, poultry and fish feed were included as scheduled products, raising the number of commodities which must use jute packaging to 19.
In the capital, only rice and potato are packed in burlap sacks. The other 17 products have continued to be stored and carried in polythene or plastic sacks.
Outside the TCB office, onion could be seen hauled out of large plastic sacks and sold to consumers in smaller polythene bags.
Wholesalers claimed almost all the onion, garlic, and ginger in Dhaka were imported from China in plastic packaging and pleaded that it was out of their hands, in spite of the mobile court raids.
KM Layek Ali, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Association recently said to a newspaper, “Every single miller in our association use jute sacks. The people who use plastic are not millers, maybe they are traders.”
An owner of an Auto Rice Mill, said, “If we do not use polythene covers, buyers say it is not original.”
According to the Department of Jute, there were around 1,152 mobile court raids between July and December last year. They fined around Tk73.48 lakh in total. The department acknowledged the difficulty in enforcing compliance.
The Department of Jute is taking two approaches – motivation and enforcement. It is meeting regularly with the associations related to scheduled products.
Sonali Bag – a Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation innovation made from jute-can be used instead of plastic, however, the much-touted Sonali Bag has had tremendous difficulty rolling out and is only being manufactured on an experimental basis. There is no confirmed timetable on when it will be commercially marketed. There are also concerns over its pricing.