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Beat Plastic Pollution: World Environment Day (June 5th)

This article is written by The Hedrick Project Contributor, Bikramjit Singh. Interested in becoming a contributor and having your work featured? Click here.

People working at a landfill

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

The 5th of June is celebrated globally as World Environment Day, with the purpose of raising awareness and encouraging action on environmental issues. It serves as a reminder to highlight the role that each and every one of us can play at the individual, community and global levels in preserving our environment and ensuring its sustenance for both present and future generations.

This year marks a significant milestone as the 50th anniversary of the first ever World Environment Day. This global event started in 1973 when it was established by the United Nations General Assembly at the Stockholm Conference.

Numerous factors, such as climate change, deforestation, pollution, biodiversity loss, and the absence of sustainable development, contributes to the complex realm of environmental issues. Each year, a different theme is chosen to draw attention to a specific environmental concern. The theme for this year is “Solutions to plastic pollution” aiming to refocus attention on the detrimental effects of plastic pollution.


THE PLASTIC STORY: ENVIRONMENT SAVIOR TO ENVIRONMENT DESTROYER

Plastic is a polymeric material that can be molded into any shape. Its history dates back to the 1850’s and 60’s when Alexander Parkes invented first plastic called Parkesine and then John Wesley Hyatt invented improved version celluloid, using cellulose derived from cotton fiber and camphor. Hyatt was motivated by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for an ivory substitute, as ivory was obtained from wild elephant tusks for making billiards balls. Celluloid was advertised as the savior of elephants and tortoises, with plastics seen as a means to protect the environment from human needs.


In 1907, Leo Baekeland’s invention of Bakelite, a fully synthetic polymer, paved the way for a wide range of plastics. Since then, plastic has become an omnipresent material, seamlessly integrated into everyday life. It is used across various industries, including kitchen essentials, beauty products, aircraft, automobiles, furniture, textiles, banking, information technology, telecommunications, packaging of consumer products and even healthcare. Notably, in 1969, Neil Armstrong planted a nylon flag on the surface of the moon.


However, the indiscriminate use of plastic has resulted in its presence across every corner of the Earth, from land to rivers, forests and oceans. Scientists first observed plastic pollution in the ocean during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Subsequently, Charles Moore’s discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, the largest collection of floating plastic waste worldwide, along with distressing incidents such as turtle entangled in plastic netting, and dead albatross with plastic shards in their stomach, raised significant environmental concerns.


Given its persistence in the environment, plastic lasts forever in every ecosystem, from mountaintops to ocean floors. It chokes marine wildlife, damages soil, poisons groundwater, and can cause serious health consequences through microplastics. Therefore, it is now seen as an environmental destroyer.


According to United Nations Environment Programme, around 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually. Yet, less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled per year. The vast majority of plastic waste is either incinerated, emitting harmful pollutants, or disposed of in landfills or released into the environment, including the oceans.


This World Environment Day gives us another reminder of the detrimental effect of plastic pollution on animal, human, and environment life and the role each one of us can play to #beatplasticpollution.


Plastic has integrated deeply into our everyday life; therefore, it’s difficult to replace it quickly. However, we must follow the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle and remove, first to achieve net zero plastic waste and then to reverse it.


HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE


Give Time: First and foremost, dedicate your time to environmental causes by joining organizations working in that field or participating in clean-up drives in your town, beach, park or near lakes.


Remove and reduce plastic: Seek opportunities to eliminate or minimize plastic from your life whenever possible.

  • The packaging industry is responsible for approximately 50% of plastic pollution, with single use plastics being a significant contributor. Avoid using single use plastics such as plastic straws, bags and food packaging.

  • Explore alternate materials like paper, stone wool, cloth, greener particle board, wood or other natural fibers.

  • In America alone, 2.5 million plastic bottles are discarded every hour. Choose reusable bottles like glass or stainless steel rather than plastic bottles.

Recycle: Contribute to recycling efforts by segregating plastic waste at home.

  • Purchase larger container packs as they are less likely to be lost in the environment and end up in water streams or oceans.

Reuse: According to the World Economic Forum, reusing 10% will stop almost half of the plastic waste from entering the oceans.


Wear More Buy less: Textile production is the second largest contributor to plastic waste, generating 42 million tonnes. Approximately 60% of all clothing material is actually plastic, Nylon, acrylic, and polyester.

  • Choose clothing made from natural fibers rather than synthetics.

  • Buy fewer clothes and wear them more often.

  • Donate unused clothes instead of disposing of them.


 

Bikramjit Singh, Phd

Written by: Bikramjit Singh, Ph. D. Bikramjit is a researcher with experience in sustainable consumer product technologies.

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