They end up in drains, water bodies and lands, causing serious harm to the environment
Every week, Shamsul Arefin, a school teacher, uses about four mini packs of shampoo and he throws the used sachets in the waste bin.
Like Shamsul of Dhaka's Mirpur, people across the country are every day buying various products, including chips, chocolates, spice powders and other products packaged in plastic, and discarding the empty sachets.
These plastic mini packs end up from dustbins to streets, and, in fact, everywhere. As they are not reusable, they end up in drains, water bodies and lands, causing serious harm to the environment, according to researchers.
A 200-gram shampoo bottle is sold for Tk250-280. If a consumer buys 34 mini packs of shampoo of 6 grams each, instead of a 200-gram bottle, one produces 34 pieces of waste plastic rather than one.
Similarly, coffee mini packs are available in shops for Tk5-10 each. Besides, 20-25-gram packets of potato chips, 20-100 gram spice powder packs and small noodles packets are sold most in Bangladesh. It means the country daily produces a large amount of waste from single use plastic.
According to a study of Environment and Social Development Organisation (Esdo), a local NGO, food wrappers annually generate about 45 thousand tonnes of plastic waste, constituting 63 percent of the total amount of single use plastic in the country.
Moreover, sachets of shampoo, toothpaste, soap and other plastic products produce about 29 thousand tonnes of waste, which makes up 33 percent of the total single use plastic, said the Esdo study titled Single Use Plastic: Hidden Cost of Health and Environment in Bangladesh.
Almost all companies producing food and other products package their products in plastic.
Manufacturing firms claim they focus on mini packs in order to make people's life easier. But it also means better business for them as smaller packets have higher sales than the larger packages.
These plastic packets are not bio-degradable. The government has no law for recycling such plastics and does not even have a plan to control it.
Companies say they would produce and market products packaged in bio-degradable plastic if there were any such laws.
Shamima Akter, public relations officer of Unilever, said the government will have to take initiatives to recycle plastic waste. Currently, the government has no rules about plastic recycling.
"Many countries sort plastic waste depending on their types and take steps accordingly. Some plastic products are destroyed while others are recycled. But in our country, city corporations collect all types of garbage together and dump in one place.
Users too keep all kinds of waste in the same bin due to lack of awareness," she said.
Md Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, president of Bangladesh Auto Biscuit and Bread Manufacturers Association, said mini packs are more popular in Bangladesh because more people can afford these smaller packages.
Bhuiyan said, "The weather of the USA and Europe and our weather are different. If a packet of biscuit is kept open for only half an hour in our country, it will go bad but the case is different in those countries."
Asked whether it poses any risks for the environment, Shafiqur said the risk could be minimised if packets could be recycled. "But mini packs are very popular and producers will not stop using those."
However, researchers say sachets scarcely have any recycling value because flexible packaging such as potato chip bags are made from layers of different types of plastic and often are lined with aluminium. It is not possible to easily separate the layers and make it useful.
These mini plastic packets can last for up to 100 years in water and soil. After a certain period, they break down and transform into small particles, according to researchers. Research says plastic particles can remain unchanged in the ground for several hundred years. They reduce soil fertility and quality. The particles also end up in fish that then enters human body. Bio-diversity is harmed due to the plastic packets and particles accumulating in nature.
Esdo Secretary General Shahriar Hossain said, "Multinational companies have introduced mini packs in the country in the developing countries. But these same companies produce family packs or bigger packets in Europe and the United States." As a result, more plastic waste is produced here.
Who use mini packs more
According to the Esdo research, the 15-35 age group are the main users of mini packs with a share of 68 percent of packaged food while 25 percent of the 36-45 age group consume packaged food.
Besides, residential hotels and super shops also use large quantities of mini packs. Large and small hotels combined in the country generate 638 tonnes of waste from sachets while super shops produce about 90 tonnes per year.
According to Bangladesh Hotel and Guest House Owners Association, the number of registered medium and good quality (5-star) hotels and guest houses in the country is 250.
Masum Ibne Shihab, senior executive of Royal Park Residence Hotel at Gulshan, said about 10,000 pieces of soap, shampoo and toothpaste are required on an average in their hotel every three months. Several hotels, including Masum's one, jointly import these items from China.
Business leaders, however, said government research and policy is urgently needed to gradually curb the use of mini packs so that businessmen and consumers are not affected.
Meanwhile, European countries have started "Zero Waste Europe" campaign to bring down the use of plastic. The Spanish government and their development partners have concentrated on avoiding plastic use in packaging different food items. Those who buy goods from shops carry their own eco-friendly bags or containers, according to a Brussels based NGO.
Dr Mallik Anwar Hossain, additional director general of the Directorate of Environment (DoE) said a committee has already been formed to formulate a policy on how to reduce environmental damage from mini packs.
"We have two primary decisions. Either manufacturers will collect the packets and dispose them off or they will pay tax to the government and it will assign some organisation to take care of those," he said.
The DoE wants to finalise a guideline in this regard by this year, he added.