World Environment Day is coming up on Monday 5 June – an annual event by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It started in 1973 and aims to raise awareness and promote action to protect the environment. As such, this year is its 50th anniversary and the theme is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. This lines up with negotiations for a Global Plastic Treaty to address the environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution.
Plastic is everywhere. Over 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year and half of it is single use plastic. For example, plastic bottles can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill and 19-23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas each year.
As well as clogging landfills and leaching into the ocean, microplastics have gotten into our food, water and even our air. The impacts of this are not yet fully understood and they may already be having negative impacts on our health.
Last year, a landmark victory saw 175 countries agreeing to write a treaty to address the problem of plastic. They aim to finish negotiations by the end of 2024 and set up a global and legally binding plastic treaty. However, progress is being threatened by fossil fuel lobbies. Fossil fuels are a main component in plastic production and more accountability would be a threat to their profit margins. As a result, they are pushing for a focus on waste management and recycling which reduces the pressure on themselves and places the responsibility on the consumers.
Climate experts and activists alike have emphasised that an effective Treaty needs to include limits on production that can hold big corporations to account.
What can you do?
It is important to be aware of the systems that are responsible for the crisis we’re in but you can also be part of the solution!
This World Environment Day, take a moment to consider what you can do to reduce plastic pollution and act on climate change. For instance, you can find great tips and suggestions in the UN Environment Program’s Practical Guide to Beat Plastic Pollution. There are a lot of ways you can get involved and some examples include:
- Take part in climate demonstration or rally
- Be more mindful about your consumption and waste
- Talk to your MP about the issue and ask them to sign up to the Plastic Smart Cities Initiative
- Volunteer for a local clean up group
Links and resources
- Watch the UNEP video
- Read the UNEP practical guide
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society has some great tips for reducing plastic use and stop waste ending up in waterways
- Watch Greenpeace International’s video on Plastic Pollution.