New Delhi: Every year, June 5 is marked as World Environment Day. This year marks the 15th iteration of the annual celebration of the planet and will be focusing on the plastic pollution crisis, once again. The reason? According to United Nations Environment Programme, humans produce more than 430 million tonnes of plastic annually. It further states that overall, 46 per cent of plastic waste is landfilled, while 22 per cent is mismanaged and becomes litter. The problem with plastic is that it is everywhere and unlike other materials, it does not biodegrade. As a result, it chokes marine wildlife, damages soil and poisons groundwater, and can cause serious health impacts.
To bring back the focus on solutions to plastic pollution, this year World Environment Day will be marked with the theme #BeatPlasticPollution. The day is a reminder that people’s actions on plastic pollution matters.
Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and held annually since 1973, the day has grown to be the largest global environmental programme, which is celebrated by millions of people across the world.
This year, World Environment Day 2023 is hosted by Côte d’Ivoire and supported by the Netherlands.
The Worrying Trends
Did you know, since the 1970s, the rate of plastic production has grown faster than that of any other material? Globally, the world produces seven billion tonnes of plastic waste annually, and, so far, less than 10 per cent has been recycled. UNEP states that if this growth trends continue, global production of plastic will reach 1,100 million tonnes by 2050.
UNEP also adds that as per global estimates, around 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic is currently found in our oceans and it is estimated that 1,000 rivers are accountable for nearly 80% of global annual riverine plastic emissions into the ocean, which range between 0.8 and 2.7 million tonnes per year.
According to Plastics, The Potential and Possibilities report prepared in association with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Praxis Global Alliance, India generates around 3.4 million tonnes (MT) of plastic waste annually and only 30 per cent of it is recycled.
Talking about the concern of growing plastic waste and how it is becoming a threat in Himalayan regions as well, Environment Scientist Dr Suresh Kumar Atri told ANI that the littering of plastic is becoming a serious threat. He said,
We are receiving 200 tons of plastic in the forest of the Himalayas. If the Himalayan region is not preserved the entire downstream area will get affected, which means that it will affect more than 700 million people as dumping plastic in soil decreases its fertility.
Last year in July, India banned the use of ‘single-use plastic’ on items like balloon sticks; cigarette packs; cutlery items including plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, trays; earbuds; sweet boxes to name a few. But on ground the reality has not changed much as these items are still available and are being sold in the market. When the ban took place last year, team Banega Swasth India spoke with Atin Biswas, Pragramme Director – Municipal Solid Waste from Centre For Science and Environment (CSE) to know why these bans are not effective in the country and what should authorities focus on, he said,
There have been plastic bans in the past as well. As many as 25 states had banned plastic previously with some form of state notification within their own jurisdictions. But all these bans had a very limited impact on ground. This ban was notified last year in August, so ample time has been given. Currently also we have banned only 10% or 20% of plastic items and we still haven’t touched packaging material and that is the big problem.
Plastic-Free Actions People Can Take
UNEP states that there are many small things that people as in individuald can do on day-to-day basis to stop plastic pollution. Here are things UNEP suggests to beat plastic pollution:
1. Participate in Beach clean-ups
2. Rivers are direct pathways of plastic debris into the ocean. Help join a river clean-up and benefit the ecosystem
3. Start shopping sustainably. Choose food with no plastic packaging, carry a reusable bag, buy local products, and refill containers to reduce your plastic waste and effect on the environment
4. Live a zero-waste lifestyle. Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products- reusable coffee mugs, water bottles and food wraps. Switch to sustainable alternatives like menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars.
5. Travel sustainably, when on a holiday and watch your single-use plastic intake. Refuse miniature bottles in hotel rooms, take your own reusable drinking bottle and use reef-safe sunscreen, without microplastics
6. Be an advocate for change. Ask your local supermarkets, restaurants and suppliers to ditch plastic packaging, refuse plastic cutlery and straws. Pressurise your local authorities to improve how they manage waste
7. Dress sustainably and ditch fast fashion. As per the statistics, the fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater and 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
8. Choose plastic-free personal care products as these products are a major source of microplastics, which get washed into the oceans straight from our bathrooms. Look for plastic-free face wash, day cream, makeup, deodorant, shampoo and other products
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.