The use of polythene has been a major concern for environmental safety. Despite that, the modern industrial societies have failed to stop using polythene which is a major source of environmental pollution.
However, the ethnic people of the Chattogram Hill Tracts are avoiding polythene to wrap vegetables with their own traditional alternatives. They mostly use the leaves of banana plant and oli (a wild plant found in the mountains) for this.
Local people in the CHT said the use of these leaves to wrap vegetables is not only eco-friendly, it is also healthy.
They said these products remain fresh for a long time if they are wrapped in leaves. Moreover, both banana and oli leaves decompose in the soil very quickly and keep the environment free from pollution.
On the other hand, polythene has to be bought from the market, but these leaves are easily available in nature.
Samaching Marma came to the weekly Marma market of Madhyampara, Bandarban to sell bamboo shoots from Ujipara.
"Bamboo shoot is more available during this time of the year. We collect it from the forest and wrap it with oli leaves to sell in the market. As the shoots are quite long, they cannot be wrapped in banana leaves. But, other vegetables are mostly wrapped in banana leaves," said Samaching Marma.
Most of the vegetable sellers in this market do not use polythene anymore as it is harmful for the environment.
"If the vegetables are kept in the polythene for a long time, they dry quickly due to excessive heat. Customers do not want to buy any vegetable if it is not fresh. But banana and oli leaves keep the vegetable fresh," he said.
Chusangma Marma, another vegetable seller in the Marma market, said, "I brought turmeric flowers wrapped in banana leaves in the morning. Almost all the flowers have been sold today. This flower is consumed like a vegetable. If the soft part of the flower is exposed to sunlight, it dries up. Banana leaves protect the flower from drying."
He said, "There are some plants found in forests which only the hill people eat as vegetables. It is convenient to sell those vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. It is also easy to tie them with leaves and carry them to the market. Since banana leaves are found everywhere, we do not have to spend any extra money for it."
Buyers also feel comfortable buying vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. They said vegetables remain fresh if they are wrapped in banana leaves.
Omar Faruque, agriculture officer, Bandarban Sadar Upazila, told The Business Standard, "The advantage of using banana leaves is that it keeps any vegetable fresh and healthy. Stomata present in banana leaves store and release water. As a result, it acts as a substitute for water. Any vegetable wrapped in banana leaves lasts longer."
However, people in the hilly areas do not use leaves to wrap fruits and vegetables only for health and environmental purposes. It is also their ancestral custom.
Uni Hla, general secretary of Headman-Karbari Kalyan Parishad, and headman of Tarachha Mauza, believes that the long-standing traditions and customs of the people in Chattogram Hill Tracts are involved here.
"Especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, various hill communities still use banana leaves to offer flowers during worship at the base of a big tree or on the banks of canals and rivers. Chakma, Tanchangya and Tripura communities throw flowers wrapped in banana leaves in the river to welcome the new year," he said.
Dr Sumadhu Chakraborty, district food safety officer in Bandarban, told The Business Standard that vegetables wrapped in banana leaves in any market in the hilly areas are good for the environment and public health.
He said, "If the banana leaves are thrown in a certain place, they mix well with the soil. There is no scope of environmental pollution. Since the use of banana leaves is associated with the traditions of the hill people, it could be found everywhere."