Reflections on Earth Day theme 2024 : Planet vs. Plastics

 Siby K. Joseph 

Siby K Joseph
Siby K Joseph an Gandhian scholar

The theme of Earth day 2024 is Planet vs. Plastics.  It calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion.

The first Earth Day was observed in the United States of America in the year 1970 in which millions of people from all walks of life gave birth to a new movement to protect the planet. Thus April 22, 1970 marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

It was proposed by Gaylord Nelson , the then US senator and environmentalist and coordinated by Dennis Allen Hayes who founded Earth Day network. By 1990 it became a global civic event and it now has the involvement of billions of people across 192 countries to safeguard our planet. In 2016, The United Nations chose Earth day as the opening day to sign the Paris Agreement.

The theme of Earth day 2024 is Planet vs. Plastics.  It calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion. As a part of the commitment to end plastics, it demands a 60 % reduction in all plastics by 2040. The observation of Earth day on this has great significance because the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-4), will take place from 23 to 29 April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada.

The revised draft of the Treaty published by the United Nations Environment Programme in December 2023 contains certain positive measures to reduce plastic production. It promotes higher recycling without taking into account human rights and health hazards associated with it.   It is estimated that 99 percent of plastics are made from fossil fuels and it cannot be overlooked. It is common knowledge that the burning of fossil fuels is a primary driver of climate change.

According to the statistics available Global plastics has reached an estimated 460 million metric tons in recent years. What is more shocking is that 75 to 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans. It is estimated that one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute worldwide, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used a year . Plastics pose serious health risks to all life on earth including human beings.  In fact it disrupts the delicate balance of life on earth.   The report viz. Babies Vs. Plastics shed light on the impacts of microplastics on the health of young babies and children. It says that:” We are only now discovering how pertinent that sentiment is as we find microplastics in our water and in the food chain itself. We are indeed almost certainly all eating plastics.” Kathleen Rogers, President, Earthday.org wrote: “Our reliance on plastics could be the biggest gamble in the story of human health, in history. We are all ingesting and inhaling microplastics. They are everywhere. Are we just hoping they are safe, or is even the remotest possibility they might be toxic so terrifying, that we can’t contemplate it?”

The report cites a number of studies so far undertaken by researchers and scientists. A 2022 study published by Environmental Pollution, conducted across 29 countries and in 108 homes, collected data on the types of microplastics found inside dust samples. Of the total dust discovered in these households, scientists recorded the following percentages of synthetic polymer fibers: Polyester 9.1% typically used in clothing Polyamide 7.7% typically used in textiles Polyvinyls…. .   It further cites a study that appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology  which  claims humans could be consuming 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year. This figure rises to 74,000 to 121,000 microplastic particles when particles we inhale are factored in too (which is annually roughly about the weight of a bar of soap).

 The question arises whether we should limit our observation of the earth day by some symbolic actions like  awareness programmes, collecting plastic garbage in your locality or organizing  drawing  or quiz competitions and so on. It is true that they are important  but what is  more significant is an alternative lifestyle which reduces the use of plastic to the bare minimum.   Can we make a paradigm shift from polyester clothing  to Khadi or cotton?  It is quite unfortunate that the Government of India through the amendment of the Flag Code of India in 2002 for the first time in the history of independent India machine- made polyester cloth was permitted for the preparation of the National Flag. Can we stop the use of bottled water by providing safe drinking water in all public places?  It is pertinent to note that making a plastic water bottle requires six times much water as the bottle itself contains.   Can we use earthen cups   replacing plastic and paper cups ? There are a number of alternatives we can suggest. But what is important is that we start such initiatives  in our homes, organizations and institutions and create public opinion which  will definitely force the government to follow the path.

In this process we are shaking the foundation of crony capitalism  along with  its very ideology and thereby  opening job opportunities to people who were traditionally engaged in such production ventures.

 Dr. Siby K. Joseph is Director, Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Library and Research Centre for Gandhian Studies, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Sevagram,

Wardha– 442102,  Maharashtra  Email: directorjbmlrc@gmail.com 

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