On the 5th of June, the world once again commemorates the World Environment Day. First held in 1974, it has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness for environmental issues, global warming, wildlife and pollution, encouraging global action to protect planet, and take ownership of their environment.
This year’s theme “Beat Plastic Pollution” draws attention to the volume of environmental challenges generated by plastic waste. Plastic Pollution involves the accumulation of plastic products in the environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans; hence the theme urges all the stakeholders-producers and consumers, as well as policy makers to jointly explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of plastics, polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.
The theme for the World Environment Day 2018 is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat challenge of plastic pollution. While plastic has many uses, we have become over reliant on single use or disposable plastic, with severe environmental damage. When it is disposed of in landfill sites, it does not decompose at a fast rate and hence, pollutes the land or soil in that area. This drastically increases its pollution rate on land as well as in the oceans, mainly in the developing and underdeveloped countries.
Plastic generally degrades in about 500-1000 years, though we may never know its actual degradation time. Based on this logic, it would have been safe to argue that plastic may never degrade, but Daniel Burd, a student of Waterloo Collegiate Institution recently demonstrated that certain types of bacteria can break down plastic.
Different kinds of plastic can degrade at different times, but the average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years. Ethylene Oxide, Xylene and Benzene are some of the chemical toxins present during the manufacture of plastic. These hazardous chemicals are emitted when plastics are disposed, and can lead to dreadful diseases in humans, plants, as well as animals. The quality of drinking water on our planet is deteriorating, as plastic releases some toxic chemicals that damage our reproductive systems. Furthermore, burning plastic leads to contamination of the atmosphere due to the release of poisonous chemicals, leading to air pollution.
If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound, by 2050
To “rise above plastics”, we need to understand the severity of the problem of plastic pollution, and know the consequences of dumping plastic in water and on land. There are many things we can do- from pressuring local authorities to improve how they manage the city’s waste, picking up any plastic we see the next time we go for a walk on the beach, talking to our families why it is important to reduce plastics in our lives, down to seeking out alternatives to the plastic items we rely on. Plastics that cannot be reused should always be recycled to ensure that they do not end up in the environment, therefore, producing more plastic unnecessarily.
Producers and retailers need to play their part as well. The “Rethink Plastic Campaign”, led by European Organisations, has called for all plastics to be made reusable, recyclable and toxic free.
In the age of Smartphones and many other distractions of modern life, connections with nature can be very fleeting. But with our help, World Environment Day can make it clearer than ever that we need harmony between humanity and nature to thrive.
These changes might be gradual and even less appealing against the problem, but taking small steps can greatly contribute to the reduction of plastic pollution, and taking some preventive measures to ensure a better life for the future generation.
“It is crucial that the next generations understand the enormous responsibility and power that they have. They need to know that they can truly transform this world to make it better and that they don’t need to make our same mistakes.” said the Head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim.