Sunday is Earth Day–a day dedicated to preserve our planet’s health taking place on 22 April since the 1970s (history class here), it engages about a billion people, i.e. a major day–and this year’s theme is plastic.
I know it’s not the most exciting subject, and to me, initiatives like charging 5p or 10 cents for plastic bags in grocery stores don’t feel like a real solution but rather a sign of how far we have to get… anywhere.
As with most earth threatening things, our plastic consumption patters have to be considered from a long-term perspective, perhaps beyond our lifetimes, which make them tricky for us humans to grasp.
This is however only partially true. The planet is already suffering from plastics in the oceans and our eco systems, and it already affects our health.
So, perhaps we have to consider that seemingly foolish 5p campaign after all, and other initiatives aiming to solve the plastic crisis. And as it turns out, that campaign is hugely successful. The levy on supermarkets and other large retailers in the UK is reported to have resulted in a 90% decline in use. That’s really impressive. And similar initiatives have been successful in Denmark, Hong Kong, South Africa and Botswana.
Plastic is really hard to clean up once it’s already out there. So even if it might seem like a drop in the ocean, we have to start using less of it (instead of thinking PET-made jeans will solve the major problem). The equation is easy: We need to make sure less waste ends up in the oceans and eco systems.
And we’re not just talking PET bottles and plastic bags in grocery stores. It’s also about the polyester clothes you wear, most likely the make up you put on your face, the toothbrush you throw in the bin.
So, what can we do as individuals, right now? Pebble Mag has a list of Seven essentials zero waste kit that perhaps is easy enough for us to comprehend (and it has a thought-provoking first sentence: In Britain we get through 7 million coffee cups a day.)
Earth Day has a Plastic Calculator that allows you to calculate your plastic consumption and make a plan to reduce it. (It’s really gentle in regards to categories, not including for example the mentioned clothes and makeup.)
But, then, beyond the individual responsibilities, maybe you’re wondering about polices around the world to tackle this enormous issue?
Well, staying in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May recently declared a war on plastic. Her 25-year environmental plan has however been criticized for demanding too little.
The EU has also recently declared a so called aggressive clean-up plan targeting single-use plastics. The EU wants 55% of all plastic to be recycled by 2030.
In December last year, nearly 200 countries signed a U.N. resolution to monitor plastics disposal in the oceans and 39 countries committed to reducing the quantity of plastics going into the sea.
California has banned single-used plastic bags (still the only US state to have achieved this).
China has strict plastic policies and has recently announced that it refuses to be the “world’s garbage dump”, effectively banning imports of plastic recyclables from other countries since January this year.
Kenya has implemented the world’s toughest plastic bag ban: four years jail or $40,000 fine.
African countries are generally better than European at entirely or partially banning/taxing the usage of plastic bags, although poor waste management arguably make the prospect of a plastic waste-free society unrealistic.
France has passed a new law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials. It will come into effect in 2020. This law has also been criticized, as biologically-sourced materials are not necessarily more environmentally beneficial.
Chile was the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags in all coastal cities.
These are just a few of the examples of what policies are being implemented.
And what to make of all of this? Well, albeit my general sense of everything being too late (unfortunately, it’s my go-to feeling and yes, I’ve inherited it from my mom) I choose to quote Joseph Curtin in the NY Times.
”The cultural impact can be game changing. As was the case with smoking indoors, the use of plastic bags becomes less socially acceptable over time once the government moves to restrict them. Reusable bags become the norm quicker than one might imagine, and shoppers seamlessly adapt their daily routines to the new reality. Action aimed at plastic bags can pave the way for further measures to address free coffee cups, lids, stirrers, cutlery, straws and takeout packaging.
Policies are definitely needed. And as individuals, we should at least be able to stop buying a million plastic bottles a minute.
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