WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY 2023
5 JUNE 2023
World Environment Day 2023 is hosted by African Development Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Côte d’Ivoire supported by the Netherlands, and the theme will focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. It is a reminder that people’s actions on plastic pollution matters.
How does Plastic Pollution Affect Us?
An estimated 19 to 23 million tonnes of plastic leak into aquatic ecosystems annually. Plastic pollution has devastating effects on a wide array of organisms in our seas, rivers, and on land. Marine litter harms more than 800 species. More than 90 percent of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomachs. The effects of microplastic ingestion are catastrophic; they cause starvation, endocrine disruption, stunted growth in some species and broken-down digestive systems. Plastic can prevent aquatic life from receiving oxygen and light, while microplastics can also accumulate in the soil due to their use in agricultural product.
The production of plastic is one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes in the world, which is a problem when it comes to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. In 2019, plastic generated 1.8 billion metric tonnes of GHGs – 3.4 percent of the global total – with 90 per cent of those emissions coming from plastic production and the conversion of fossil fuels. Most plastics originate from fossil fuels and the plastic industry accounts for 6 per cent of global oil consumption. The level of GHG emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This is particularly an issue with single-use plastics: 98 per cent of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuels or “virgin” feedstock.
Microplastics can enter the body through inhalation and absorption via the skin and accumulate in organs, including the placenta. Some of the chemicals in microplastics are associated with serious health impacts, especially in women. Scientists have established links between exposure from chemical additives that leech from plastics with obesity, diabetes, poor brain health and even cancer. Research is still being done on the effects microplastics have on human health, and we do not yet know the extent of how dangerous they are. Additionally, due to limited and inefficient waste management infrastructure, 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burnt, 12 percent of which consists of plastic. The burning of plastic waste has multiple health impacts, including increasing the risk of heart diseases and aggravating respiratory problems, such as asthma and emphysema.
Where Is All This Plastic Waste Coming From?
The packaging sector is the world’s largest generator of single-use plastic waste. Approximately 36 per cent of all plastic produced is for packaging. This includes single-use for food and beverage containers, 85 percent of which ends up in landfill or as hazardous waste.
Plastic is found in everything from cars and electronics to medical devices and children’s toys. These products include chemical additives which can leach out and affect the health of animals and plants. Plastic used in the consumer goods industry causes an estimated US$75 billion in environmental damage per year.
Building and construction
Common construction materials, such as pipes, floors, and paints feature plastic. These make up around 35 per ent of total plastic use. Approximately 100 billion tonnes of waste from the industry is generated yearly and about 35 per cent is
sent to landfill.
Plastic is used extensively in farming and agricultural systems. Approximately 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products are used in plant and animal production, and 37.3 million tonnes in food packaging per year.
An estimated 20 per cent of all plastic in the ocean comes from fishing, shipping and recreation. More than 45 million kg of plastic enters the ocean from industrial fishing gear alone. These materials, such as nets, can trap and suffocate marine organisms and pollute the ocean with microplastics.
Energy, oil and gas
Energy companies are some of the largest plastic polluters in the world. Single-use plastic is made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, and plastic production accounts for around 3.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is projected to increase as petrochemical companies transition their products from energy into plastics.
Textiles and fashion
The world is producing and consuming more textiles than ever before. About 60 per cent of material made into clothing is plastic. When clothing is washed, the pieces shed tiny microfibres – a form of microplastics. Laundry alone causes around 500,000 tonnes to be released into the ocean every year, the equivalent of almost 3 billion polyester shirts.
Travel and tourism
Tourism is a big contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis. Eight out of 10 tourists visit coastal areas, adding to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that enter the ocean every year. Many hotels are also filled with single-use plastic shampoos,
toothbrushes, and combs. While cruise ships dump large amounts of microplastic-laden wastewater into the sea.
Cars are made up of around 30 per cent of plastic components. But most of this goes to landfill as it is made from low-cost virgin polymers. Instead, cars are scrapped for valuable metal or electronic components.
Where does this plastic end up?
22% Mismanaged, uncollected
15% Collected for Recycling with less than 9% actually Recycled after losses.
How can we help?
There is no one solution, but many that must happen simultaneously and immediately. Consumer pressure is key, but real action needs to come from companies, investors, lawmakers and governments.
As individuals, we can:
Clean a Beach: If you live near a coastline, join beach clean-ups in your area. Or take your family along on a beach walk and start your own clean-up.
Clean a River: Rivers are direct pathways of plastic debris into the ocean. Join a river clean-up or do your own! The river will look nicer and benefit its ecosystem and the ocean.
Shop Sustainably: Next time you are out shopping, choose food with no plastic packaging, carry a reusable bag, buy local products, and refill containers to reduce your plastic waste and effect on the environment.
Try a Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Become a zero-waste champion. Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products- reusable coffee mugs, water bottles and food wraps. Consider options like menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars. These will help you save money and the ocean too.
Travel Sustainably: When you are on holiday, try to watch your single-use plastic intake. Refuse miniature bottles in hotel rooms, take your own reusable drinking bottle and use reef-safe sunscreen, without microplastics.
Be an advocate for change: Ask your local supermarkets, restaurants and local suppliers to ditch plastic packaging, refuse plastic cutlery and straws, and tell them why. Pressure your local authorities to improve how they manage waste.
Dress Sustainably: The fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater and 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. “Fast fashion” is so last year. Consider sustainable clothing lines, vintage shops and repair your clothes when possible.
Choose plastic-free personal care products: 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.
Join UNEP in taking action now! #BeatPlasticPollution