FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 29

Plastic pollution– a growing threat to our environment

Pakistan and other countries observed World Environment Day on June 5. The observance is meant to create awareness and encourage efforts to protect the environment. World Environment Day calls upon all of us to protect our natural surroundings. Every year a new theme is promoted. This year the theme chosen is ‘solutions to plastic pollution’.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day. Conceived and organised by the United Nations Environment Programme, it was first established by the UN in 1972 during the Stockholm Conference on the Human World Environment Day (WED) is one of the more unique UN-designated international days because of its history and its many firsts. It was created on the first day of the first-ever U.N. conference which focused on humans and how they interact with the environment. Sweden first suggested having such a conference to the U.N. in 1968. Next year, the U.N. agreed that after 3 years they would have a conference in Sweden that focused on environmental issues.

Finally, it all came together in 1972, after 4 years of hard work and preparations. World leaders from around the world sat together to discuss how they can raise awareness to protect our environment — and it was then a special day for this purpose was decided upon. Two years later, the first Environment Day was celebrated with the slogan “Only One Earth.” Since then, WED has been adopted by people everywhere. Celebrities around the world encourage people, in their own unique way, to do their part to save the earth.

There are many national and international forums to highlight the importance of protecting our environment but World Environment Day is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by nations across the world every year.Over the past five decades, the day has become the largest channel for environmental outreach and messaging. Tens of millions of people take part along with governments, companies, cities and community organizations.

On the World Environment Day, the UNEP has called for greater efforts to ‘limit waste and push for a transition to a circular economy’. The UN body also released a ‘Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide’, urging people to share it far and wide. It has also called for social media posts to be shared under the campaign hashtag ‘BeatPlasticPollution’.

Needless to emphasise, the world is being overwhelmed and inundated by plastic. According to a report, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year – half of which is designed to be used only once. Less than 10% is recycled while an estimated 25 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas annually. Microplastics – tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter – find their way into food, water and air. It is estimated that each person on the planet consumes more than 50,000 plastic particles per year. Many plastic products contain hazardous additives, which may pose a threat to our health. The chemical additives in plastics can cause endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, diabetes, obesity, asthma, neurodevelopmental defects and even cancers. They accumulate over time in our organs, particularly our lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen.

An estimated 7 million people die each year from causes related to environmental pollution, with a majority occurring in the Asia-Pacific region. Environment Day encourages people everywhere to get active to fight plastic pollution. That means that each one of us should try to avoid as much as possible the use of plastic materials to minimize their harmful effects on the environment.

Over the years, many countries have taken initiatives for environmental protection. One of them is China which now owns half the world’s electric vehicles and 99 percent of the world’s electric buses. Experts have acknowledged that the country has demonstrated tremendous leadership in tackling air and other kinds of pollution.

Public awareness on the issue is growing. Innovative solutions are being found to tackle the problem. However, more efforts are needed to increase public and political pressure to speed up actions by governments, companies and other stakeholders to solve the plastic pollution crisis. It is time to take serious notice of plastic pollution and its detrimental impacts on health, the economy and the environment. Plastic products have now become a ubiquitous threat to us and more so to our future generations. To this end it is important to impress upon the industry to reduce the production and consumption of single-use plastic, which should be replaced with durable and sustainable alternatives.