Published in The Daily Star on Tuesday, 1 September 2015.
Public and private millers questioned the government’s sincerity in implementing the jute packaging law that was enacted in 2010 to promote environment-friendly jute goods.
The government will soon take crash programmes to promote the use of jute-based packaging and stop plastic packaging in a month or two, State Minister for Textiles and Jute Mirza Azam said while he blamed plastic bag traders for the current situation.
The proliferation of plastic packaging has forced some jute mills to close and discouraged many others from expanding business.
“I doubt the government’s willingness to implement the law. Five long years have gone but the laws are yet to be implemented,” said Najmul Huq, managing director of Janata Jute Mills, one of the largest and oldest jute mills.
The government enacted the Mandatory Jute Packaging Act in 2010. The rules of the law were formulated in 2013 stipulating that all traders as well as government organisations must use jute bags to pack paddy, rice, pulses, wheat, fertiliser and sugar.
The law makes it mandatory for manufacturers to use packaging materials made of at least 75 percent of jute fibre.
Also, first-time rule violators are supposed to face a Tk 50,000 fine or a year or incarceration, while second-time offenders are to face both. However, the rules are not being followed in the market.
If the local market with 160 million consumers begins using jute bags, many millers will not need to export jute and jute goods, according to Huq.
This will encourage new investments and farmers will get due prices of their produce riding on the domestic demand alone, he said.
“This has happened with the tea market,” Huq said. Once Bangladesh exported tea, but now it imports the leaf to meet domestic demand despite a rise in local tea cultivation over the years.
“We will get good prices from foreign buyers if the domestic demand increases,” he said.
India, Bangladesh, China and Thailand are leading producers of jute, and Bangladesh currently ranks second after India with around 60 lakh bales (1.05 million tonnes) a year.
There are over 200 jute mills, including 81 jute spinners in Bangladesh. Of them, 27 units are owned by the state — through Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation or BJMC.
The use of jute and jute goods is increasing in parts of the world as it is eco-friendly and bio-degradable. Apart from bags and sacks, the natural fibre is mostly used to make cloth for wrapping bales of raw cotton, and to make sacks and coarse cloth.
It is also woven into curtains, upholstery, carpets, area rugs, hessian cloth and backing for linoleum.
Though many government agencies come under the purview of the law; there has been little interest on their part to use jute bags, let alone private enterprises and businesses, said retired Maj Gen Humayun Khaled, chairman of BJMC.
“What the government agencies buy is very nominal compared to their requirement,” said Khaled.
Bangladesh produces some 5-6 million tonnes of paddy annually, which if packed in jute bags, will need a supply of 50-60 crore pieces of such bags, he said.
“The government has to force the use of jute bags. More mobile courts have to be there to monitor the use of jute bags,” Khaled said.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the full enforcement of the packaging law will create demand for 84 crore jute bags a year for selected agricultural and non-agricultural products.
By one estimate, about 70 percent of local raw jute will be used up in the production of those bags, he said.
Mirza Azam warned the plastic producers and traders saying that the government will not spare them if they impede the use of eco-friendly jute bags.
“We have discussed the issue at the recent conference of deputy commissioners. We have asked the DCs to ensure implementation of the mandatory packaging laws,” he said.
As part of a crash programme, the state minister said they will start a campaign in 10-12 districts around Dhaka next month to stop the use of plastic bags and promote jute goods.