ORIGINALLY celebrated as Spring Equinox for the first time in 1970 when United Nations’ Secretary-General U Thant spoke about it at a Peace Bell Ceremony at the United Nations in New York City, International Mother Earth Day is now observed on April 22 (chosen by Gaylord Nelson, since 2009) every year with different themes-action agendas, as per the directions of UN. It is one of the most widely celebrated environmental events across the world, signifying uniqueness and biodiversity of planet Earth. It tries to ensure scores of ideas to diversify environment awareness campaigns wherein people are motivated to buy green products to implement the concept of “Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle and Remove” to fight against global warming. Every year on April 22, men, women, children, groups and communities all around the world gather together and put all their efforts to collect garbage, plant saplings, encourage people to go for recycling, sign petitions and discuss issues to save this planet from depleting resources. Earth Day Network (EDN), in this vein, provides platform to around 193 countries for raising their environmental concerns and augmenting environmental movement, which resulted in the sanctioning of various Acts such as Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, to name a few.
The invention of plastic in 1907 was considered a breakthrough. Plastic products soon became omnipresent in our daily lives. For many years, we only perceived the benefits of plastic and knew little of the damaging consequences for human health, natural ecosystems and the climate. Plastics are a problem mostly due to their un-biodegradable nature, the materials used for plastic production (hydrocarbon molecules—derived from the refining of oil and natural gas), and the challenges behind properly discarding them. However, “from poisoning and injuring marine life to presence of plastics in food to disrupting human hormones and causing major life-threatening diseases, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet’s survival,” notes the EDN. In this regard, Earth Day 2018’s theme is ‘End Plastic Pollution’, for providing the evidence and stimulus needed to primarily adjust a people’s attitude and behavior about plastics. It has further four major components: (1) Leading a grassroots movement to support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution; (2) Educating, mobilising and activating citizens across the globe to demand that governments and corporations control and clean up plastic pollution; (3) Educating people worldwide to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics, and (4) Promoting local government regulatory and other efforts to tackle plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution is one of the most significant environmental glitches. This because of the fact that “Plastic is a petroleum product. It is created from petroleum just like refined gasoline. The EPA estimates that production of plastic products account for an estimated 8% of global oil production. The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. The EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET is the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).” To pacify plastic pollution, EDN has articulated a ‘Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit’ to support anyone who wants to contribute individually. With its execution, one can not only measure one’s plastic pollution footprint but also lower plastic pollution impact with the help of “plastic pollution footprint calculator and tracker.”
The question of plastic pollution along Pakistan’s coastline is a foremost apprehension owing to their non-degradable nature. According to the statement by Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro, about 12,000 tonnes of garbage is generated per day in Karachi of which only 40 percent is collected and taken to dumpsites whereas the remaining garbage mainly reaches different nullahs or burnt locally. According to the WWF-Pakistan’s Moazzam Khan, “Only a small fraction of garbage is burnt, which has its own environmental consequences but garbage that reaches the ocean consists mainly of non-degradable plastics. Furthermore, the studies reveal that “65 percent of garbage that litter beaches along Pakistan’s coast consist of plastics, which includes mineral water bottles, caps, polythene bags, balloons, wrappers, shoes, broken utensils and discarded fishing nets.”
The problem cannot be mitigated by imposing ban on polythene bags, not until government generates awareness of their perils and provides the people with inexpensive, reusable environment-friendly alternatives. In this vein, an awareness walk by civil society organisations in Karachi against use of plastic items is a welcome step as it divulged that at least 55 billion plastic shoppers are being used per year. But, it is governments’ duty to facilitate the use of cloth bags, implement SEPA 2014 in its true spirit, create a uniform system for waste collection and disposal and organise public awareness movements.
— The writer is Senior Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), a think-tank based in Islamabad.