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World Environment Day

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World Environment Day is a United Nations initiative to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, the event has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is observed in over 100 countries. This year’s theme is “beat plastic pollution”. It’s a call to action for everyone to combat one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.

While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over-reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. We can make lots of simple changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural surroundings, our wildlife, and our own health. Individuals are increasingly exercising their power as consumers. People are turning down plastic straws and cutlery, cleaning beaches and coastlines, and reconsidering their purchase habits in supermarket aisles.

If this happens enough, retailers will get the message to ask their suppliers to do better. While these steps are a cause for celebration, the reality is that individual action alone cannot solve the problem. Even if every one of us does what we can to reduce our plastic footprint, we also need to address the problem at its source. Consumers must not only be actors but drivers for the behaviour change that must also happen upstream. Ultimately, our plastic problem is one of design. Our manufacturing, distribution, consumption and trade systems for plastic – indeed our global economy – need to change.

The linear model of planned obsolescence, in which items are designed to be thrown away immediately after use, sometimes after just seconds, must end. At the heart of this is extended producer responsibility, where manufacturers must be held to account for the entire lifecycle of their consumer products. At the same time, those companies actively embracing their social responsibility should be rewarded for moving to a more circular model of design and production, further incentivising other companies to do the same.

Changes to consumer and business practice must be supported and in some cases driven by policy. Policymakers and governments worldwide must safeguard precious environmental resources and public health by encouraging sustainable production and consumption through legislation. To stem the rising tide of singleuse plastics, we need government leadership and in some cases strong intervention. Many countries have already taken important steps in this direction.

The plastic bag bans in place in nearly 100 countries prove just how powerful direct government action on plastics can be. In the next 10 to 15 years, global plastic production is projected to nearly double. Avoiding the worst of these outcomes demands a complete rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic.

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World Environment Day will seek to influence change in four key areas:

Reducing single-use plastics: 50 per cent of the of consumer plastics are designed to be used only once, providing a momentary convenience before being discarded. Eliminating single-use plastics, both from design chains to our consumer habits is a critical first step to beat plastic pollution.

 Improving waste management: nearly one-third of the plastics we use escape our collection systems. Once in the environment, plastics don’t go away, they simply get smaller and smaller, last a century or more and increasingly find their way into our food chain. Waste management and recycling schemes are essential to a new plastics economy. 

Phasing out microplastics: recent studies show that more than 90 per cent of bottled water and 83 per cent 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. Humans add to the problem with microbeads from beauty products and other nonrecoverable materials. 

Promoting research into alternatives: different solutions to oil-based plastics are limited and difficult to scale. This doesn’t need to be the case. Further research is needed to make sustainable plastic alternatives both economically viable and widely available. Source: worldenvironmentday.global.

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