On April 22nd, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands demonstrated against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realised they shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labour leaders. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
The Earth Day theme for 2018 was End Plastic Pollution which is clogging our waterways, killing and injuring wildlife, and endangering our health and safety. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish. Every human on earth depends on the oceans. We have the responsibility to protect them and their inhabitants.
The plastic waste was estimated at an astounding quantity of approximately 6,300 million metric tonnes in 2015. Of that, a staggering 79% accumulates in landfills and the environment. The plastic makes its way to the ocean where it traps and is eaten by marine animals. In the ocean the plastic continually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until it can enter the blood stream of fish and other organisms, bringing along the toxins it has absorbed. 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, mostly due to their un-biodegradable nature.
Plastic pollution is now recognised as a hazard to public health and the human body. Chemicals leached from some plastics used in food/beverage storage are harmful to human health. Correlations have been shown between levels of some of these chemicals and an increased risk of problems such as chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy.
Plastic is created from petroleum just like refined gasoline. According to estimates, the production of plastic products accounts 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. Many plastics contain phthalates (DEHP) and the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), now recognised as a hazard to public health and the human body. Both chemicals are potentially harmful to human hormones and reproductive systems.
The planet’s temperature has changed extremely over the millenniums, while numerous species have seen extinction. The current wave of modernisation and industrialisation has brought new challenges for the Earth. Numerous human activities have created a sense of fear that rampant use of resources and unwarranted extinction of natural life would render the Earth barren. Many countries have witnessed the fast disappearing natural beauty. Rapid expansion of population, increasing environmental degradation and uneven development have contributed to make a mess of the Earth. We as individuals, and governments, global leaders and businesses need to take the ownership of our planet, let us become its guardian and not only to protect the Earth, but to also protect ourselves and generations to come. Let us be the generation that ends plastic pollution.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2018.