June 5, 2018
World Environment Day is celebrated on 5th June every year in over more than 100 countries to create awareness on environmental issues and encourage positive action for protection of our environment. India is the global host of this year’s World Environment Day, themed 'Beat Plastic Pollution' which urges to combat single-use plastic pollution by the slogan 'If you can’t reuse it, refuse it'. Though plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over dependent on single-use or disposable plastics – with severe environmental consequences.
Global Plastic Pollution by the Numbers:
• Up to 500 Billion plastic bags are used each year
• A person uses a carrier bag for just 12minutes on average which takes 500 years to decompose
• 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year
• 17 million barrels of oil used on plastic production each year
• We buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute
• 100,000 marine animals killed by plastics each year
• 100 years for plastic to degrade in the environment
• 90% of bottled water found to contain plastic particles
• 83% of tap water found to contain plastic particles
• 50% of consumer plastics are single use
• 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic
• India generates 15,342 tons of plastic waste annually. Half of the total plastic used is single-use or disposable items such as grocery bags, cutlery and straws.
• India’s contribution to plastic dump into the world’s oceans is 60%
Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are those used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, water/soda bottles and most food packaging. All these petroleum based plastics are not biodegradable (does not decompose into natural substance like soil) and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean. Although plastic disposed from consumer products and industrial waste will not biodegrade, it will break down into tiny particles after many years forming micro plastics which are extremely small pieces of plastic (less than 5mm) that still remain in the environment and pose severe threat to animals, birds and aquatic life. Micro beads are another source of plastic pollution which are small, manufactured plastic beads used in health and beauty products. In the process of breaking down of plastic debris, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply. These toxic chemicals can be found in our bloodstream and the latest research has linked them to cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.
To beat plastic pollution, we need to entirely re-think our approach to designing, producing and using plastic products. The aim of the theme is to inspire the kind of solutions that lead to sustainable behaviour change upstream by inspiring innovators, activists and leaders worldwide to do more than just clean up existing plastics, but also
focus our action upstream. It is estimated that in the next 10-15 years global plastic production is projected to nearly double and avoiding the worst of these outcomes demands a complete rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic.
Nowadays with increased awareness, individuals are exercising their power as consumers. People are turning down plastic straws and cutlery, cleaning beaches and coastlines and reconsidering their purchase habits in the supermarket. Many entrepreneurs have come forward to lead the change like introducing eco-friendly tableware i.e. plates, cups, bowls, trays, cutlery and other products – all of which are made from plant biomass and all of which are 100 per cent biodegradable. Within a decade, ‘Ecoware’ has grown to become India’s biggest supplier of compostable tableware.
Moreover, 23-year-old Dutch student Boyan Slat who founded the Ocean Cleanup Foundation at the age of 18, has designed a machine that will use ocean currents as its driving force to catch the plastic and collect 40,000 tons of plastic trash in the Great Pacific garbage patch. Another example is ‘Conserve India’, an organisation in Delhi founded by Anita and Shalabh Ahuja that was born of a desire to reduce India’s mountain of waste, and employs the poorest of the people in the society - the rag pickers. Their team, after a lot of research, struck upon the idea of up cycling by washing, drying and pressing plastic bags into sheets. Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP) is made from polythene bags picked from Delhi’s streets, rubber from old truck tyres’ inner tubes, old denims and saris. In collaboration with top designers, Conserve India makes high-end fashion items like handbags, wallets, shoes and belts from the handmade recycled plastic. The processes used to make ‘Conserve’ bags and accessories have been specifically developed to be as energy efficient as possible and to keep out polluting dyes and chemicals. This not only helps the environment, it also cuts costs, giving the organisation more money to invest in other social projects such as providing the rag pickers basic infrastructure, healthcare etc. Conserve India has collaborated with Fair Trade for marketing its products, which are available in stores across US, Japan, Europe. Their products can also be bought online through their website. By buying Conserve’s products one not only gets to be a trend setter in fashion, but also gets to help some of India’s poorest people and their environment.
While these steps are a cause for celebration, the reality is that individual/few actions alone cannot solve the problem. Even if every one of us does what we can to reduce our plastic footprint – and of course we must– we must also address the problem at its source. Ultimately, our plastic problem is one of design. Our manufacturing, distribution, consumption and trade systems for plastic – indeed our global economy –need to change. We are living in an era in which items are designed to be thrown away immediately after use, sometimes after just seconds. This approach will lead us being problem solvers in future rather than ending the problem itself.
At the heart of this is extended producer responsibility, where manufacturers must be held to account for the entire life-cycle of their consumer products. At the same time, those companies actively embracing their social responsibility should be rewarded for moving to a more circular model of design and production, further incentivizing other companies to do the same. Changes to consumer and business practice must be supported and in some cases driven by policy. Policymakers and governments worldwide must safeguard precious environmental resources and indeed public health by encouraging sustainable production and consumption through legislation.
To stem the rising tide of single-use plastics, we need government leadership and in some cases strong intervention. Many countries have already taken important steps in this direction. The plastic bag bans in place in more than nearly 100 countries prove just how powerful direct government action on plastics can be. Governments must lead, enacting strong policies that push for a more circular model of design and production of plastics. This World Environment Day, every government is called to enact robust legislation to curb the production and use of unnecessary single-use plastics. India has announced that it will clean up 100 of its historic monuments, including the famous Taj Mahal.
The private sector must innovate, adopting business models that reduce the downstream impact of their products. This World Environment Day, it is called upon every plastic manufacturer to take responsibility for the pollution their products are causing today, and make immediate investments in sustainable designs for tomorrow.
Citizens must act as both consumers and informed citizens, demanding sustainable products and embracing sensible consumption habits in their own lives. This World Environment Day, every plastic consumer is called to exercise their buying power by refusing single-use plastics like plastic straws, cutlery, shopping bags etc. Choose healthy alternatives like using reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, take what you need with you like reusable spoons, shopping bags etc, buy in bulk, get creative and reuse wherever possible like refilling hand wash liquid instead of buying a new one, cook food at home and avoid parcels from restaurants wherever possible to avoid packaging etc. are some ways you will not only protect the environment but also save a lot of money as well!! Discuss with your friends and family for more interesting ways you can #Beat Plastic Pollution.
There are many ways to be the change and solve our environmental challenges. The theme invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife, our own health and our generations to come.
Compiled from various sources.
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