World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on 5th of June every year to encourage people to think and act for Environmental Conservation and to create global awareness for the need to conduct sustainable activities in all spheres of life. Since 1972, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been using the WED as a global platform for public outreach - giving people the world over a "day" to do something worthwhile for the environment. The theme adopted by the UNEP for WED this year is "Beat Plastic Pollution" and the slogan is "If you can't reuse it, refuse it"!
This theme is a call to action to people the world over to combat the pollution caused by plastic - an alarming environmental problem facing us today - and take necessary steps to protect our health and environment ! The theme is an invitation to all individuals to reflect on how what changes we can make in our daily lives to reduce the adverse impact that plastic pollution is having on our health and wildlife ! Our task is to understand why plastic - an apparently useful material - is an environmental hazard. Thereafter, the challenge is to find methods - and materials - that may help us avoid the use of plastic !
This year's host country for WED celebrations is India.
Why "Plastic Pollution" is a serious problem
Plastic - being versatile, economical and lightweight - is the most preferred material for most commodities and components. So not surprisingly, most of the products we use in our daily lives have some amount of plastic in them ! The undeniable benefits of plastic has prompted a boom in its production, which in turn has led to some undesirable environmental consequences. A deluge of unmanageable plastic waste is generated every year - most of which make their way to the landfills and the oceans ! Reusing plastic, especially as food storage containers, is not advisable either as most plastics contain chemicals harmful to health - like BPA and pthalates - that may leach into the food ! Styrofoam, used to make disposable serveware and as packaging cushions, contains carcinogenic chemicals like styrene and benzene !
Most plastic items are difficult to recycle, especially when used in combination with other materials (like laminate pouches) or contaminated with other substances (like food waste). Besides, recycling efforts simply cannot keep pace with the level of use and disposal. Burning plastic waste may release hazardous gases like furan and dioxin ! And, to add to this problem, most plastics do not "biodegrade" - they merely break down into small particles called microplastics ! So the "single-use" type of plastics, that are produced to be used for a few seconds and discarded thereafter, may remain in the environment for hundreds of years ! And the fact that plastic does not decompose easily is what makes "plastic waste" so menacing !
Plastic bags that are disposed of thoughtlessly clog sewers and block waterways. The toxins in the plastic waste pollute the soil and groundwater ! Plastic waste that reach the oceans often accumulate to form gyres - like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch , which is a swirling heap of plastic trash about the size of Texas floating in the Pacific ocean between Hawaii and California ! Thousands of marine animals die every year by ingesting plastic waste. What is worse is that the toxins in the plastic move up the food chain and reach the plates of human beings !
The most common items that contribute to plastic pollution include cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery/garbage bags, plastic lids, plastic straws and stirrers and plastic take-away containers.
Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans every year
Nearly 17 million barrels of oil used for plastic production
About 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute
100,000 marine animals are killed by plastics every year
It takes over 100 years for plastic to degrade in the environment
90% of bottled water is found to contain plastic particles
83% of tap water is found to contain plastic particles
Almost 50% of consumer plastics are "single use" type
Over 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic
India : Host for WED 2018
India is the host nation for the official ceremonies of World Environment Day 2018. India is emerging as a global environmental leader in combating issues like climate change and global warming ! In "beating plastic pollution" India will once again demonstrate its sincerity, commitment and innovation to the world at large !
Groups of all sizes -and across the cross-section of society - will go the extra mile in making the event successful ! Incidentally, India has one of the highest "recycling" rates in the world and has the potential to take the lead in several other environmental issues. By its decision to host the World Environment Day 2018, and by choosing to combat plastic pollution, the Indian government has shown its courage to be instrumental in an issue of immense global importance !
The Government of India has pledged to organize celebrations and promote the theme of the World Environment Day through a several engaging activities and events that would generate strong public interest and wholehearted participation. With activities like "plastic clean-up drives" in public areas, national reserves, sea beaches and forests throughout the whole nation - India will lead the way and inspire others.
Talking about the World Environment Day plans Dr. Harsh Vardhan - India's Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change - has said :
"Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed towards making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place. He has further added :
"If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet."
Appreciating India's enthusiasm in hosting the WED 2018, Mr. Erik Solheim, the Head of UN Environment has said : "The country has demonstrated tremendous global leadership on climate change and the need to shift to a low carbon economy, and India will now help galvanize greater action on plastics pollution. It's a global emergency affecting every aspect of our lives. It's in the water we drink and the food we eat. It's destroying our beaches and oceans. India will now be leading the push to save our oceans and planet."
Do Something - Every Action Counts !!!
In order to beat plastic pollution we need to change the way plastic items are designed, produced, used and disposed of ! Cleaning up plastic waste is not enough, we need more action upstream - the manufacturing of unnecessary plastic items must stop ! Consumers need to give up their use and throw culture; businesses need to innovate and come up with more sustainable products and governments need to intervene - through relevant legislation - to ensure proper consumer behaviour and business practices vis-a-vis plastics. We, as responsible citizens, can refuse single-use plastics, insist governments to ban them and encourage businesses to produce better "eco-friendly" alternatives. We need to urge our Governments to ban the use of microbeads in personal care items. At the same time, we need to urge the Businesses to be socially responsible and to think of alternatives that may be economically viable and available worldwide.
For several years, the United Nations and its Member States have been trying to understand the complex relationship between plastic, society and the environment - and have been working out ways to manage the plastic economy more effectively. We also need to find ways to reduce our plastic usage !
The World Environment Day 2018 seeks to influence change in
four key areas:
Reducing Single-Use Plastics
Improving Waste Management
Phasing Out Microplastics
Promoting Research into Alternatives
WED can be celebrated through art exhibitions, documentary film shows, competitions, sporting events, demonstrations, road shows, flash mobs, online and social media activities - and in many other ways.
Here's what the UNEP has to say in this regard : "Whether it is to organize clean-up campaigns, walk-to-work days, plastic purges, art exhibits, tree-planting drives, concerts, dance recitals, switching off the lights, recycling drives, social media campaigns and different contests - every action counts. When multiplied by a global chorus, our individual voices and actions become exponential in their impact." The environment affects everyone - no individual can afford to say that it's not his or her business - and WED gives us all the opportunity to become agents of change. So, however busy you may be, find time think about ways to Beat Plastic Pollution and inspire others to do so !
Erik Solheim, the Head of UN Environment says: "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."
"Arise, Awake and Act" ! Remember, Every Action Counts !!!