(Prof. Govind Singh Rajwar, author is Fellow, Linnean Society of London)
Dehradun: Plastic, once hailed for its convenience, availability, and aesthetic appeal, has now emerged as a formidable threat to life itself. This year, World Environment Day will be commemorated with a resounding call to combat plastic pollution, recognizing the urgent need to address its detrimental impact on the ecosystem. Progress in this endeavor hinges upon the active involvement of the general populace.
To “beat plastic pollution” signifies the cessation of its pervasive influence. Under the auspices of this year’s theme, concerted efforts will be made to devise solutions for controlling and eliminating plastic pollution, which has reached a critical juncture, imperiling ecosystems worldwide.
An astonishing 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually across the globe, with 50 percent falling into the single-use category. Approximately 20 million tonnes of plastic find their way into lakes, rivers, and seas, either by seeping into the soil or being carried away by water bodies. Alternatively, plastic is incinerated, generating toxic fumes that pose a grave threat to our planet.
Single-use plastic products wreak havoc on the environment, society, economy, and human health. Every minute, a staggering one million plastic bottles are purchased worldwide, while 50 billion plastic bags are consumed annually. This demonstrates that half of all plastic products are manufactured for one-time use and promptly discarded.
Plastic is an artificial organic polymer material utilized in packaging, construction, household goods, sporting equipment, vehicles, electronics, agriculture, and numerous other domains. Improper disposal of plastic products invariably results in environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity.
Some scientists have coined the term “plastosphere” to describe the age dominated by plastic. Between 1950 and 1970, plastic consumption was relatively modest, allowing for manageable waste control measures. However, since the turn of the millennium, plastic waste has skyrocketed, exceeding the combined volume of the previous four decades.
If the current rate of 400 million tonnes of waste per year persists, projections indicate that annual global plastic production will soar to 1,100 million tonnes by 2050. Recent years have witnessed global endeavors to curtail the production of single-use plastics.
An estimated 98 percent of single-use plastics are derived from fossil fuels. Consequently, the use and disposal of fossil fuel-based plastics are projected to increase the world’s carbon budget by 19 percent by 2040, due to greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production process.
The quantity of plastic material infiltrating aquatic ecosystems, which stood at 9 million tonnes in 2016, is anticipated to surge to 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040. Scientific research and a deeper understanding of human behavior offer viable solutions to combat plastic pollution. Nevertheless, realizing these solutions hinges upon the resolute determination of the global community, encompassing governments, corporations, and all stakeholders.
This year, World Environment Day will be jointly celebrated in Cote-d’Ivoire and the Netherlands. Cote-d’Ivoire implemented a ban on plastic bags in 2014, with the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Jean-Luc Assy, emphasizing the palpable threat posed by plastic pollution to all communities.
Vivian Heijnen, the Dutch Minister of the Environment, asserted that the perils of plastic pollution, encompassing health, economic, and environmental aspects, cannot be disregarded, necessitating swift action. In India, World Environment Day will be observed under the theme of “Mission Life,” advocating for an environmentally conscious lifestyle. This initiative, proposed by the Prime Minister of India during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, seeks to inspire sustainable living practices among the populace to safeguard the environment.
The Mission Life framework encompasses various programs proposed by different departments and centers of the Indian government, including the Regional Centers of the National Museum of Natural History, Zoological Survey of India, and National Center for Coastal Management, among others.
Additionally, World Environment Day coincides with a lunar eclipse this year. In the Atharvaveda, planting trees and vegetation during a lunar eclipse is emphasized as a means to mitigate any negative effects. By planting saplings on this day, we not only serve Mother Earth but also shield ourselves from the adverse impacts of celestial phenomena.
To commemorate this occasion, alongside tree-planting initiatives, we can adopt eco-friendly products, utilize biodegradable materials instead of plastic for packaging, organize cleanup campaigns in parks or rivers, promote recycling, and undertake other measures for environmental preservation. Through collective action, we can foster a meaningful and sustainable community.