World Environment Day is celebrated in over 100 countries, it’s organised by the UN each year and this year's focus is on “Beat Plastic pollution”. World Environment Day also celebrates its 50th anniversary.
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 products.
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 percent 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 percent 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 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This is particularly an issue with single-use plastics: 98 percent 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 to 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 disease and aggravating respiratory problems, such as asthma and emphysema.
Many of the solutions to significantly reducing plastic pollution aren’t in the hands of the end user or consumer, however, we can still make individual choices to use less plastic by changing a few habits:
- Carry a reusable water bottle. Don’t let your bottle be one of the 1 million plastic bottles bought every minute worldwide. In the offices, try to more away from disposable plastic cups and cutlery.
- Likewise, carry a reusable plastic-free thermos for your morning coffee or tea.
- Always keep a few reusable bags rolled up at home, at work and in your bag. Remember to also carry smaller reusable bags for fruits and veggies. More than 1 million bags are used every minute according to the UN Environment Programme.
- Pack your own lunch in a reusable plastic-free container. It’s healthier and saves money. Why not petition your favourite lunch food spot to replace plastic packaging with sustainable alternatives like BYO (bring your own) lunchboxes and coffee cups.
- Say no to plastic straws. Opt for reusable metal straws to enjoy your smoothie.
- Pick natural fabrics and textiles. Reduce the amount of clothes in your wardrobe with synthetic plastic fabrics. They release tiny micro plastic dust particles that end up in our ocean and in our lungs. Even synthetic carpets and rugs release micro plastics dust particles.
- Use eco-friendly detergent, sponges made of natural fibre and cleaning products that won’t harm our rivers, coral reefs and ocean.
- Opt for plastic-free packaging if you can. Recycle your existing plastic. Reduce your plastic use. Even biodegradable plastic doesn’t fully degrade. Of the 14 percent of plastic packaging that is recycled worldwide, only 5 percent is retained for use after expensive sorting and reprocessing.
- Don’t litter. Nearly one-third of the plastic packaging used worldwide becomes litter that ends up clogging our city streets and sewage systems and ultimately travels to our rivers and oceans.
- Remember the best way to reduce plastic pollution is to not use plastic in the first place but if you cannot do away with single use plastics, at least ensure that they are properly recycled, if necessary take any personal plastic waste i.e. drinks bottles etc. home if it can be better recycled there.
The world environment day website has some practical guidance about what we can do to put pressure on producers to reduce plastic usage.
At Bertling, reduction of plastic use is one of our KPIs, we’ve started with trying to reduce or completely halt the use of single-use plastic bottles in the office and we will look at other ways to reduce our plastic usage as we progress on our road to zero.