The environment is usually a word which is used to depict our physical surroundings and the conditions of Earth, including land, water, air and ecosystems. It encompasses all living and non-living things and their interactions with each other. This environment, one which provided us with all what we have today, now is under the risk of pollution and destruction, by none other than humans themselves.
World Environment Day is annually celebrated on the 5th of June to raise awareness and promote environmental protection. It is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme( UNEP) and had been celebrated since 1973. Hosting a specific theme in order to focus individually on the different problems which affect the planet, this year, the day will be focused on the solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution.
After the first major conference in regard to environmental issues, the Stockholm Conference (1972), the need to forge a basic outlook on how to address the challenge of preserving the human environment was considered. Later on, in that very same year, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated June 5th as World Environment Day and urges “Governments and the organizations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the Conference.”
Also on the same day, the General Assembly adopted another resolution which led to the creation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Since the first celebration in 1973, the World Environmental Day has helped the UNEP raise awareness and create political momentum around growing issues regarding the environment. The depletion of the ozone layer, toxic chemicals, desertification, climate change, global warming, and along this line, this year it turns the spotlight onto plastic pollution. This day has developed itself into a global platform through which awareness and action on urgent environmental matters have been taken.
As we are all aware by now, plastic is dangerous to health and extremely harmful to the environment, especially non-biodegradable.
Plastics are made from synthetic polymers that are designed to be durable. As a result, they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, leading to long-term pollution. Every year, nearly 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced, of which only less than 10% is recycled. Nearly half of it isn’t even reused but just thrown away.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items or are intentionally manufactured for use in various products, such as cosmetics and textiles. These particles are pervasive in the environment and have been found in water sources, soil, and even the air. It is estimated that a person on the planet might consume more than 50,000 plastic particles per year, and maybe inhale even more.
Plastic pollution originates from various sources, including improper disposal of plastic waste, inadequate recycling and waste management systems, littering, and industrial processes. Single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, bottles, and packaging, contribute significantly to the problem.
“Some 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow annually into oceans. This may triple by 2040.” (UNEP, 2023)
Marine animals and birds often mistake plastic debris for food or become entangled in it, leading to injury, suffocation, and death. Additionally, the ingestion of microplastics (small plastic particles) by marine organisms can enter the food chain, potentially affecting entire ecosystems. It also has detrimental effects on ecosystems. It can alter habitats, reduce biodiversity, and contaminate soil and water. Plastics can leach harmful chemicals into the environment, posing risks to both wildlife and human health.
” More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by this pollution through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers.” (UNEP 2023)
It’s not only just this! Plastic is predominantly produced from oil and gas, both of which are fossil fuels. The more plastic we make, the more fossil fuel is required, the more we intensify the climate crisis. Thus by neglecting this plastic pollution, we end up contributing to global warming too. Not to mention these plastics also may end up in dumpsters along with other materials and end up emitting greenhouse gases too.
Preventing plastic pollution requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, businesses, and governments. Here are some steps that can be taken to reduce plastic pollution:
- Reduce Single-Use Plastics: Single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, bottles, and utensils, are major contributors to plastic pollution. Minimize their use by opting for reusable alternatives. Carry a reusable shopping bag, water bottle, and coffee cup with you to avoid disposable plastic items.
- Recycle Properly: Ensure that you understand the recycling guidelines in your area and follow them diligently. Separate recyclable materials from general waste and place them in the appropriate recycling bins. Support local recycling initiatives and advocate for improved recycling infrastructure.
- Avoid Plastic Packaging: Choose products with minimal or no plastic packaging. Look for alternatives like products packaged in glass, paper, or other environmentally friendly materials. Buying in bulk can also reduce the amount of packaging waste generated.
- Participate in Clean-up Activities: Get involved in local clean-up campaigns or organize one in your community. Participate in beach clean-ups, river clean-ups, or neighbourhood litter clean-ups to prevent plastic waste from entering water bodies and ecosystems.
- Educate and Raise Awareness: Spread awareness about the harmful impacts of plastic pollution and the importance of reducing plastic use. Share information with family, friends, and your community through social media, workshops, or educational events. Encourage others to adopt sustainable practices.
- Support Plastic-Free Initiatives: Support businesses and organizations that are committed to reducing plastic use. Choose establishments that offer plastic-free alternatives and encourage others to do the same. Engage with companies and ask them to reconsider their packaging choices.
- Advocate for Change: Reach out to local authorities, policymakers, and businesses to advocate for stricter regulations on single-use plastics and improved waste management systems. Support initiatives and organizations working towards plastic pollution reduction.
- Proper Waste Disposal: Ensure that you dispose of plastic waste properly. Avoid littering and use designated trash bins. Be mindful of the proper disposal of items like cigarette butts, which contain plastic filters.
- Sustainable Lifestyle Choices: Embrace a more sustainable lifestyle by making conscious choices. Reduce overall consumption, buy second-hand or sustainable products, and prioritize quality over quantity. Support local markets and businesses that promote sustainable practices.
- Spread the Word: Use social media platforms to spread the message about plastic pollution prevention. Share informative articles, documentaries, and resources to raise awareness and inspire others to take action.
The World Environmental Day serves as a reminder that everyone has a role to play in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. It encourages individuals to make small changes in their daily lives that can collectively have a significant impact on the health of the planet. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with nature and take steps towards a more sustainable and greener future.
- United Nations: World Environment day: https://www.un.org/en/observances/environment-day
- How you can help protect the environment from plastic pollution: https://www.stockholm50.global/news-and-stories/how-you-can-help-protect-environment-plastic-pollution
- World Environmental Day: https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/
- World Environment Day: https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/world-environment-day/
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