JUTE VS POLYPROPYLENE BAGS

Use of polypropylene bags for wheat storage is a serious threat to health of both humans and grains

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Jul 17 - 23, 2000

Facts about jute business in Pakistan

Jute industry provides direct employment to over 20,000 people in underdeveloped rural areas of Pakistan.

Pays Rs700-800 million in direct and indirect taxes

Ads 100 per cent value to imported raw materials. The industry imports $15 million worth of raw jute to manufacture sufficient jute goods to meet the entire demand in the country. If Pakistan were to import finished jute goods the import bill would be in excess of $45 million per annum.

Government will need to induce investment of Rs32 billion to replace the paid up investment made in the jute industry. It takes Rs320 million to set up a textile mill employing 200 people.

The industry is generally free from debts.

As much as 15-20 per cent of the industry's production is used for packaging of export commodities such as rice, cotton, onion, dry fruits and some other commodities.

Ignoring the health warnings against the use of polypropylene (PP) bags for keeping the food grains, the Balochistan and Punjab governments have purchased PP bags for the storage of wheat grains.

Being a living organism, which continuously respires, wheat is the most sensitive of all the grains. The quality of the wheat grains cannot survive in the absence of ventilation because air does not pass through the synthetically produced PP bags. Hence jute being a natural fibre is used for storage of grain since centuries without any adverse effect on the quality of the grains.

The obvious reason for the officials deciding to go for PP bags may the price factor, as PP bags are much cheaper as compared to jute bags but at the cost of the health.

Since the PP bags contain toxic and carcinogenic substances released into the environment their use for storage of wheat has been strictly opposed by the scientists of PCSIR laboratories also.

Mazhar Valjee, Chairman of Pakistan Jute Mills Association (PJMA) while talking to PAGE said that the entire needs of the country estimated at 180 million bags annually, have always been met by Pakistani jute mills by supplying 60 million bags. The remaining demand is met from jute bags being reused for several times. Elaborating his point of view Mazhar said that a fresh jute bag is sold at a price of Rs42, which remain in use for at least three years. After using a bag for 3 years, the government sells the used bags to flour mills at a price of Rs24 per bags. The resale value of the bag makes it cheaper as it costs only for Rs6 per year as the government spends only Rs18 per bag for three-time use in three years.

He said that the jute industry has been contributing over Rs.800 million to the economy in the form of various duties, taxes, levies, surcharge, cess etc. Besides this, the jute industry directly employs over 15000 workers, which makes it one of the most labour-intensive industries in Pakistan.

Mazhar expressed his concern that if this industry was prevented from playing its role in the economy, more and more mills will close down and the national economy would ultimately lose revenues in the form of duties, taxes, employment opportunities. Also it would leave the government's purchasing agencies such as Food Department, PASSCO and others at the mercy of imports from Bangladesh jute industry.

The storage conditions in Pakistan are different from those of the developed countries, which need expansion and improvement. It is a common sight that after harvesting quite a large quantity of wheat is stacked close to railway stations where they lie under the open sky and has to bear the vagaries of the weather.

The polypropylene bags under direct sunlight for long period are likely to deteriorate thereby affecting the quality of stored grain. The polypropylene bag will also interfere/ reduce the respiration process of the grain.

It is amazing that despite a consensus of the food controllers from all over the country that experience of introducing polypropylene bags in the food department is not desirable, the provincial government of Balochistan and Punjab have gone into purchase of a huge quantity of polypropylene bags.

The food controllers are of the view that due to 50 kg filling, its stacking was difficult and owing to the fact that hooks could not be used in the polypropylene bags hence its loading/unloading becomes cumbersome.

Unlike jute bags, re-cycling of polypropylene bags is not possible for the reasons that the mill owners cannot use it for sale of atta.

They have also mentioned that owing to storage of wheat in polypropylene bags, the heat affects the wheat color and quality. The quality of wheat stored in polypropylene bags cannot be checked as it was impossible to take samples out these bags, is yet another factors goes again the use of PP bags. They said that as no hooks can be used under printed directions hence quality cannot be checked through prevalent practice of checking through bamboo.

Some bags are usually found to be out and torn during handling operation and their repair seems to be impracticable with sutra (jute cord). The spray or fumigation becomes a futile exercise upon stocks stored in PP bags packing.

In absence of bulk handling facilities in Pakistan jute bags have a wide spread use for packing wheat and other cereals and grains. Jute bags offer multiple reuse capability and therefore 65,000-75,000 tonnes of sacking is sufficient to cater to packing of 7 million tons of grains, cereals, fruits, vegetable, dry fruits, cotton, paddy etc.

Departments and Corporations of the Federal and Provincial Governments procure 4 to 8 million tonnes of wheat annually. For this purpose they buy up to 200,000 (60 million bags) 60,000 tons of jute sacks. After one to three time uses the sacks are sold off to flour mills. These bags then are used for packing of other commodities mentioned above.

Lately Food Departments of the Government of Punjab and the Government of Balochistan have purchased substantial quantities of Woven Polypropylene (WPP) Bags for storage of wheat. It is expected that the use of WPP will soon become wide spread for packing and storage of wheat in Pakistan.

In order to replace 65,000 tons of jute sacks only 11,000 tons of WPP bags would be needed. However since PP bags have very limited reuse capability therefore 6 times more PP bags would be needed to meet the requirement of the country. So the environment of Pakistan would receive 60,000-70,000 tons of additional PP waste every year. Unlike jute PP bags is not biodegradable and therefore will remain in the environment forever unless it is incinerated—of course in that event the toxic fumes that are given off are again extremely harmful. WPP bags contain following toxic and carcinogenic substances, which are released into the environment and the food chain on disintegration as described below:

Wheat grain is a living organism and continuously respires. The respiration process is slow at low moisture and temperatures but as the temperature and moisture raises the respiration also increases. The respiration process generates heat that is not quickly dissipated because wheat is a poor conductor of heat. When wheat is stored at high moisture and or temperature environment it respires rapidly. This process goes on and the wheat gives off carbon dioxide and water vapors and itself loses weight.

In case of jute bags the bag absorbs the moisture, which is then dissipated into the environment. In case of pp bags it gets trapped inside the bag and therefore causes the wheat to cake. Since the process of respiration continues the wheat becomes mildew and is attacked by fungus.

WPP bags left exposed to sunlight even under tarpaulins disintegrate into powder and get mixed with the grain. The wheat received by the flour mills is polluted fine powder of PP bags that will then be consumed by humans and animals.

The disintegrated powder of the PP stays in the environment fore-ever, being non-biodegradable and can never be disposed of.

WPP bag powder is known to contain deadly elements such as lead, cadmium, and chromium, Copper, nickel and zinc. The antioxidants in the fabric are known to have caused skin irritation in certain climates. The inhalation of the high nickel concentration can cause acute and sub-acute poisoning. Nickel dust and Aerosols of Nickel metal, nickel oxide and others are carcinogenic. Antimony dioxide used as the stabilizing and flame proofing agents in PP is also carcinogenic. Therefore it poses major hazards for the health of all living beings be it humans, animals or vegetation and plantation.