It is estimated that we use and discard 500,000,000,000 (half a trillion) plastic bags each year and over a million plastic bottles are sold every minute. Another calculation suggests that 51 trillion micro-plastic particles have contaminated our oceans in last one year alone. That is 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy!
If there is one man-made thing in the world that can claim omnipresence, it is plastic pollution. It’s everywhere. In our oceans, on land, in air, in space; it seems inescapable. In just a short span of 60-70 years, plastic has permeated everything from clothing, cooking and catering to retailing, product design and engineering.
The longevity of plastics, considered its greatest advantage, has today become the source of the biggest threat to our planet. Resistant to the natural processes of biological degradation, it is believed that nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today. This is evident in the mountains of plastic waste in our landfills and oceans.
Worryingly, studies have also shown that all drinking water in the world now has plastic particles in it. We are staring at a global catastrophe. Animals and birds alike are dying either by getting entangled and therefore asphyxiated by plastic, or by ingesting it or through exposure to harmful chemicals emanating from it. It’s disrupting various health parameters and hormonal mechanisms in humans too.
The Way Forward
Reducing the plastic waste piles isn’t enough. We need to beat plastic pollution on multiple fronts. The Art of Living has taken up various projects to address the issue.
Through a global volunteer network we have till date planted 71 million trees in India and across the world. Increasing green cover is one of the most practical ways of countering the dangers of rising dioxin resulting from burning plastic wastes. Similarly, we have seen that introducing natural ways of farming not only makes farming sustainable but also effectively checks the trend of plastic pollution spreading in rural areas through plastic mulch. Our ongoing drives to conserve and revive water bodies are addressing the pressing problem of clogging by plastic wastes.
Avoid Short-cuts & Reduce the Footprint
The fight against plastic pollution demands a fundamental change in our attitude and behaviour towards plastics and the way we live our lives. Ninety percent of plastic items in our daily lives like grocery bags, plastic wraps, disposable plates, cutlery, straws and coffee-cup lids are used just once and then thrown. People must be educated on why short term-conveniences that we have got accustomed to can cause irreversible damage to the planet. Refusing any and all single-serve packaging will be a step in the right direction. If you do get a plastic item, reuse it as many times as you can and then recycle it.
Hunt For Alternatives
We must also expedite the mission of finding more natural alternatives to plastics that are environmental-friendly, sustainable, cost-effective and convenient. Both governments and citizens have to work in tandem to resolve this problem.
Think Big and Speak Out Loud
The most-needed step is to educate people in a larger vision of life and re-inculcate a reverence and respect for nature. Traditionally, in India, nature has been adored; mountains, rivers, trees, the sun, the moon and the five elements have all been attributed divine qualities. In fact, ancient cultures all over the world have exhibited a similar deep respect for Nature. Today it has become necessary to free the human mind from stress and greed and nurture Nature. It is time to act.
And Pledge To Do It
India is the global host of 2018 World Environment Day. The theme for this year is “Beat Plastic Pollution.” This World Environment Day, let’s take a pledge to do everything in our capacity to reduce the use of plastic by less than half. We can begin by choosing recyclable plastic over disposable plastic whenever and wherever possible, by carrying our own recyclable bags and water bottles, by avoiding use-and-throw items.