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In the packaging industry in Bangladesh, jute polymer can lead across the world by replacing conventional petroleum-based polymers. Since 2010, noted scientist Dr Mubarak Ahmad Khan, scientific adviser at Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), had been trying to invent a biodegradable polymer from jute fibre and success came in 2015. Certainly, it can also give a great boost to the country’s economy, given the rising demand for this environment-friendly poly bags in developed countries. The authorities concerned should promote and support this project so that no ‘fund crisis’ can hamper such commendable innovation leading to country’s development.
Globally, up to 5 trillion polythene bags are used and discarded every year, according to the UN Environment. In Bangladesh, production and use of polythene are banned. Still, yet some 2 crore polythene bags are used every day in Dhaka city alone. But with increasing awareness about the environmental threat of using polythene, demand for an alternative is rising. It is true that every day more and more entrepreneurs and businesses from home and abroad are showing interest in buying jute polymer bags.
Although biodegradable, this jute polymer is water and air resistant and is 1.5 times stronger than polythene. It also decomposes in soil within five to six months as opposed to polythene, which could take several hundred years. The project must operate independently through direct government support.
Experts believe that the production requires three types of automatic machines in three major stages — collecting cellulose (an organic compound which is found in plant’s cell wall) from jute fibre, dissolving the cellulose into warm water to prepare a viscous solution (the final raw material), and then casting the solution into a tray and drying it to make the polymer sheets.
The only concern is now the cost of raw materials for jute polymer which is 150 percent higher than that of polythene and polypropylene. The production cost of the polymer could be brought down by four times with large-scale manufacturing.
So, reducing production cost, setting a competitive price, developing automatic and powerful machinery, producing a large volume of raw materials, and meeting the rising demand are some of the major challenges for jute polymer.
All of this can be overcome with big public and private investment and policy support. The government should also fully enforce the ban on polythene before commercialising jute polymer.