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World Environment Day 2023: #BeatPlasticPollution

World Environment Day 2023 has been commemorated annually on June 5 since 1973 under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This occasion reminds us of the urgent need to take active measures against one of the most pressing global environmental challenges: plastic pollution. 

The theme of World Environment Day 2023 is to #BeatPlasticPollution. This global movement demands not only the active participation of governments and businesses, but also the efforts of each individual.

A complex problem

The enormous volume of plastic produced each year stands at more than 400 million tons globally. A worrying fact is that about half of this plastic is designed for single-use, destined to be discarded after its brief life cycle. 

Furthermore, less than a tenth of this plastic waste is recycled. A staggering estimated 19-23 million tons of this waste eventually finds its way into our lakes, rivers, and seas each year, a weight equating to roughly 2,200 Eiffel Towers combined.

Adding another layer to the complex problem of plastic pollution are microplastics. These are minute particles of plastic, up to 5mm in diameter, that permeate our food, water, and air. Recent studies suggest that an average individual ingests more than 50,000 such particles annually – a figure that significantly rises when we consider inhalation.

The pervasive presence of plastic, particularly single-use ones, poses an imminent threat to human health, biodiversity, and virtually all ecosystems, extending from mountain tops to the ocean floor. Discarded or burnt plastic releases toxins that are detrimental to both humans and wildlife.

Transformative action is needed

The seriousness of this crisis highlights the importance of World Environment Day and the crucial need for transformative action from every corner of the globe. It’s an urgent call for an accelerated transition towards a circular economy, which promotes recycling and reusing resources rather than continually producing new ones.

The necessity of this action is evident when we consider the impact of plastic pollution on climate change. Plastic is predominantly derived from oil and gas, both of which are fossil fuels. As such, the production of plastic directly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, thus intensifying the climate crisis. 

If we fail to intervene, emissions from plastic production alone could account for 19 percent of the total allowable emissions established by the Paris Agreement. The target of this treaty is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040.

Urgent action is needed

The potential consequences of inaction are catastrophic. Without necessary measures, air pollution could exceed safe guidelines by 50 percent within a decade. Additionally, plastic waste infiltrating aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple by 2040. To maintain global warming below 1.5°C this century, we must halve annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The need for urgent action is clear. Thankfully, the stage has been set for a global agreement to combat plastic pollution. Last year, a historic resolution was endorsed by 175 UN Member States to end plastic pollution and develop an international legally binding agreement by 2024. This resolution, the most significant environmental multilateral agreement since the Paris accord, promises to act as a safeguard for current and future generations to coexist with plastic, not be endangered by it.

Get involved 

The celebration of World Environment Day, this year hosted by Côte D’Ivoire, is more than a day of acknowledgment. It’s a platform for public outreach, sparking discussions and inspiring actions among millions of people worldwide. By participating, we collectively signal our commitment to preserving our planet for future generations.

One effective way to participate is by joining the #BeatPlasticPollution movement through the official website of World Environment Day 2023. You can find a wealth of information about the issue, learn about the actions you can undertake to contribute to the solution, and access various resources to promote the movement on your social media. No action is too small.

Become a part of the solution 

The fight against plastic pollution presents an opportunity for us to transition from being a source of pollution to becoming part of the solution. A striking example of the extent of plastic pollution can be seen in places as remote as the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in our oceans, and Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. Despite their inaccessibility, these locations bear the scars of human activities, accumulating tiny pieces of plastic carried by air and water currents from miles away.

This alarming fact underscores the magnitude of the problem we are facing. To better grasp this global crisis visually, we invite you to explore an engaging report that showcases the depth of the garbage problem in our oceans. These interactive and visual stories offer a more nuanced understanding of this pressing issue.

With the available scientific knowledge and technological solutions, the time has come for governments, companies, and individuals to upscale and expedite actions to tackle this crisis. By transitioning to a circular economy, we can substantially reduce plastic pollution. This shift can cut the volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80 percent by 2040, decrease virgin plastic production by 55 per cent, save governments an estimated US$70 billion by 2040, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, and even create 700,000 additional jobs, primarily in the global south.

This World Environment Day, as we mark half a century of its celebration, the stakes have never been higher. The urgency of our environmental challenges requires us all to participate in the movement to #BeatPlasticPollution. By working as a team, we can protect our environment and ensure a healthier future for all life on our planet.


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