World Environment Day 2023: Beat plastic pollution with 20 simple steps
The UNEP is celebrating World Environment Day today (June 5) with the theme, ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, which was the global body’s focus in 2018 as well. Five years later, the UN has revived the same theme because plastic pollution has amplified and become a severe epidemic.
From the 1950 till the 1970s, a small amount of plastic was produced and was relatively manageable but by the 1990s, it had more than tripled. Since the 2000s, plastic waste has burgeoned and today, humans currently produce about 400 million metric tons of plastic waste per year. In India, only 30 per cent of the 3.4 million tonnes annually that gets generated get recycled and the rest is dispatched to landfills or aquatic dumps.
What is pertinent is that according to UNEP, almost 50 per cent of the plastics used is in the form of packaging material globally.
The use-and-throw nature of many kinds of non-degradable plastic products, which are only capable of becoming ever smaller particles, explains why beating plastic pollution has become such an insurmountable challenge for the world.
Think about it – there are one million plastic bottles are purchased every day and 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In short, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – just to be used once and then discarded. Single-use plastics create the maximum carbon footprint, with 98 per cent of these are produced from “virgin” feedstock, that is, from polluting fossil fuels and not from the ones already produced.
It is actually cheaper to just make a new plastic product than to collect it and recycle it or reuse it. The recycling capacity of plastic remains woefully inadequate if not marginal. Right now, individuals can do their share to keep their environment healthy and plastic free.
Adopt new habits to limit your plastic footprint
- If you live near a coastline, join beach clean-ups in your area. Or you can take your family for a beach walk and start your own clean-up, or even join a river clean up in your city.
- Next time you are out shopping, choose food with no plastic packaging, carry a reusable bag.
- Use refill containers, bring your own coffee mug to work.
- Become a zero-waste champion. Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products – reusable coffee mugs, water bottles and food wraps.
- Opt to buy everyday items like bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars.
- Use menstrual cups rather than pads.
- Refuse to accept miniature bottles in hotel rooms, take your own reusable drinking bottle.
- Stop buying drinking water or any other beverages in plastic bottles.
- Buy reef-safe sunscreen, without microplastics. A reef-safe sunscreen is a sunscreen free of chemical ingredients and small particles known to damage and potentially kill coral reefs in the oceans. Those ingredients are, to date, oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene. Look for a “reef-safe” label when shopping, but double check the ingredients list.
- Ask your local supermarkets, restaurants and local suppliers to ditch plastic packaging, refuse cutlery and straws in the big P.
- Consider sustainable clothing lines, vintage shops and repair your clothes when possible.
- Personal care 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.
- Discourage the use of plastic cups for soft drinks, coffee or tea in outlets. Insist on glass or ceramic mugs. Bring your cup or thermal flask, if you must.
- Make your storage containers plastic-free. Store all your food items in glass containers. Clean and reuse glass containers whenever you purchase one.
- Buy coffee in bulk, food items in paper bags or cans, or bring your own bags/containers.
- Plastic straws are a major pollutant as they are single-use products. Say no to straws when ordering drinks.
- Skip the range of ‘disposable’ products from shaving razors to disposable diapers and switch to regular ones.
- Use your purchasing power to buy products that can be reused, repaired or repurposed. In India, elephant dung and cotton cloth waste is used to make handmade paper.
- Ask your local authorities to improve how they manage your city’s waste. It can be done. A classic example is the Surat municipal corporation, which effectively recycles its 150 million tonnes of plastic waste into different items that can be used to make furniture, to be used in pipes etc.
- Buy less, consume less. A conscious effort in this direction can trim plastic use. It’s purse-friendly, too.