By laminating our oceans, we are choking life

This World Environment Day we need to pledge towards curbing our plastic use 

By Vijai Dharmamony
Published: Friday 03 June 2022
52 फीसदी पक्षियों ने निगला प्लास्टिक, शरीर में पाया गया प्लास्टिक से संबंधित केमिकल: अध्ययन

Do you know that all the plastic produced before you and your great-grandfather were born are still somewhere on the planet? Chances are there, your grandmother’s first toothbrush is still floating in the ocean or buried somewhere in the beach.

We live in a world of convenience. What was a luxury to our forefathers has become a norm of today’s lifestyle. The most extensive collateral to achieve is plastic products. Well, you may think we can solve this problem by recycling, but no surprise — recycling plastic is not a magic solution.

The world produces about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Only 9 per cent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Mopping the water cannot be a solution if the leakage is substantial. About 12 per cent has been incinerated, while the rest has accumulated in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment. Additionally, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. India’s contribution is approximately 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste per year.

The notion that the ocean is vast and can hold all the human dumping is far from true. Also, people who live far from the sea are not fully aware of the benefits humankind enjoys from the ocean.

Ocean resources provide the primary sources of livelihood to millions of people across the globe and a wide range of ecosystem services and benefits, including oxygen production, food provision, carbon storage, minerals, genetic resources, and cultural and general life support services.

However, the ecosystem services from marine and coastal ecosystems are deteriorating at an alarming rate, owing to several human pressures, including climate change.

As human activities in the marine environment are expected to increase in the future, in particular in areas beyond the national jurisdiction, they will not only exert growing pressure on natural resources but may also threaten marine biodiversity and thus the benefits that people obtain from ecosystem services.

We do have national and international laws / treaties to address ocean pollution, and as with any other law of the land, it is time to pull the string a bit tighter. We are moving in the right direction, with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) announcing a ban on single-use plastic items from July 1.

According to the CPCB, items such as earbuds, flags, candy and ice-cream sticks, decorative thermocol, PVC banners less than 100 microns thick, stirrers, wrapping films, cups, glasses, and cutlery, among others, won't be allowed. We have banned multiple times in the past (a few states) but hope it will be firmer this time around.

The World Environment Day 2022 global campaign ‘OnlyOneEarth’ calls for transformative changes to policies and choices to enable cleaner, greener, and sustainable living in harmony with nature. It will focus on the need to live sustainably in harmony with nature, and our possibilities for shifting to a greener lifestyle through both policies and individual choices.

You and I can help in curbing plastic pollution in many small ways. Following is a list of activities you can start acting on from today:

  1. Discourage the use of single-use plastic and cutlery
  2. Avoid synthetic fabrics; they shed microfibres. Switch to cotton
  3. Switch to cloth bags instead of plastics
  4. Give your kids wooden toys to play with instead of plastic
  5. Take away food increases the plastic demand and consumption, so as much as possible dine-in
  6. Carry your own reusable water bottles
  7. Avoid heavily packaged foods. Buy local
  8. Recycle your waste. Dispose of responsibly
  9. Use glass containers for storage
  10. Choose eco-friendly decorations.

The ecological risk from plastic will continue due to the projected increase in unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Our civilization needs a clean, resilient, productive, safe and predicted ocean. It is essential to understand the distribution and transboundary movements of the ocean's plastic to implement management measures.

In India, however, the effects of marine plastic studies have focused only on a few locations. Along with scientific investigation, enforcement, improvisation and framing of new policies, integrated technologies to manage plastic waste and behavioural changes are essential to mitigate marine plastic pollution.

Such measures will be effective through a combination of actions among national and international researchers, businesses, policymakers, environmental managers and the public.

Vijai Dharmamony, Associate Director-Marine Conservation, WWF India

Views expressed are the authors and need not necessarily reflect that of Down To Earth

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