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Bangladesh's jute may solve the world's plastic problem

Jute is a versatile fiber that can even be used as a building material. Courtesy of Fawaz Rob/Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute

DHAKA -- Long before Bangladesh became known for its low-end apparel sweatshops, it had a top-class jute industry. Fiber that grew best in the humid swamps of the Ganges delta was weaved into biodegradable rope, sacks and carpets, then sold around the world.

     Jute went into serious decline following the development of the petroleum-based synthetic packaging industry, whose bags now litter many streets and waterways. A shift back to jute products like burlap might have substantial global environmental benefits. But Bangladesh's jute industry is hurting.

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