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 Beat Plastic Pollution  

Date of Publish - Monday, 4th June 2018

As the host country for World Environment Day 2018, India influenced the selection of the ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ theme. Plastics have been a part of human civilization for around hundred and fifty years and plastic pollution has emerged as one of the biggest environmental challenges, with statistics showing that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050. The reliance on single-use or disposable plastic has had disastrous consequences and plastics are everywhere, floating in rivers and ocean, clogging drains and affecting the health of people and biodiversity. The theme for Earth Day this year was ‘End Plastic Pollution’ and perhaps, for the first time ever, the two most significant days on the environment calendar have the same focus- ‘Plastic Pollution’.

Around the world, a million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute and 5 trillion disposable plastic bags are used and discarded every year. Whether it is a bottled soft drink, a bag from the supermarket or a spoon in a coffee shop, single-use plastic has become embedded in our daily lives. The low cost, convenience and lightness of these products have revolutionized the packaging of goods. However, the catastrophic environmental cost of plastic pollution is now becoming increasingly clear. The problem is likely to worsen as global plastic production is projected to nearly double in the next 10-15 years.

Every year up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, with a massive accumulation of plastic trash in each of the world’s five major oceanic gyres. The latest studies show that 88% of the surface of oceans throughout the world are contaminated with plastics. Nearly 70% of all ocean litter is plastic with enough to circle the Earth four times in a single year. The United Nations has warned that “marine life is facing irreparable damage” with at least 1,00,000 mammals and birds dying every year because of ingesting plastic.

Fabrics like Polyester, Nylon, Spandex and Fleece are all made from plastic and every time they go in the washing machine, tiny plastic microfibers are washed down the drain. Plastic microfibers have been found in salt, honey and beer and seafood. The proliferation of plastic microbeads in cosmetics is a critical multiplier of plastic pollution prompting a few countries to ban them totally. In fact, all plastic wastes simply get smaller and smaller, last a century or more and increasingly find their way into our food chain. Recent studies show that over 90% of bottled water and even 83% of tap water contain microplastic particles. No one is sure what that means for human health, but trace amounts are turning up in our blood, stomachs, and lungs with increasing regularity.

Plastic pollution is rampant in India and without an efficient waste management outside of the major cities, we are rapidly transforming into the world’s largest garbage dump. According to Indian government estimates, 62 million tonnes of waste are generated annually by the burgeoning population of 1.35 billion people. One recent report stated that 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in India, of which 6,000 tonnes is neither collected nor recycled.

Some countries and businesses have taken the lead in addressing plastic pollution. The United Kingdom is set to ban the sale of single-use plastics, including plastic straws and cotton swabs from the country as early as next year. The ban is a step toward the country's goals to eliminate avoidable plastic waste as part of the 25 Year Environmental Plan. The UK had successfully implemented a charge on plastic bags and became the second country after the United States of America to implement a microbead ban. The European Union has also proposed a blanket ban on single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery and cotton buds while urging the collection of most plastic drinks bottles by 2025.

Global fast food giant McDonald’s announced a landmark decision to implement a 100 % packaging policy using only renewable, recycled or certified sustainable sources within the next eight years. Costa Coffee, one of the world’s largest coffee companies, made commitments including discounts on reusable cups, removal of all plastic straws from cafes and payment of £70 for every tonne of used cups to waste collectors. UK food retailer ASDA announced plans to immediately reduce plastic use by 10 percent in 2018, with the replacement of 2.4 million drinking straws. It also committed to remove single-use cups and cutlery from all stores by 2019. French bottled water giant Evian has pledged to go carbon neutral and plastic free; it will be producing only 100 percent recycled bottles by 2025. English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur has announced plans to eliminate plastics from its new stadium and also replace plastic bags with biodegradable ones.

Despite the momentum generated by these initiatives, the overwhelming problem of plastic pollution can only be addressed by massive awareness generation, behavioural change and a worldwide ban on single-use plastics. To beat plastic pollution, we need to entirely rethink our approach to designing, producing and using plastic products. World Environment Day seeks to influence change in four key areas: Reducing Single-Use Plastics, Improving Waste Management, Phasing Out Microplastics and Promoting Research into Alternatives. “Beat Plastic Pollution” is a clarion call to make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the burden of plastic pollution. To change the future, we all need to play our part.

Author :
Rituraj Phukan


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