World Environment Day 2018: a call to action on plastics
The UN’s flagship environmental awareness campaign, World Environment Day has been held on 5 June every year since 1974. This year, the theme is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, tapping into the growing global consensus against single-use plastics. The UN explains: ‘the theme... is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. The theme invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife – and our own health.’
Erik Solheim, UN Environment Chief, wrote in the Guardian today that 'we are on edge of a plastic calamity', adding that the world needs 'a wholesale rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic.'
The problem of plastic waste has dominated the environmental news agenda over the past year, with a string of shocking statistics revealing the extent of the damage caused by our addiction to single-use products. More than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been generated since the 1950s – and only nine per cent of all the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, with 12 per cent going to incineration and the rest remaining in landfills and the natural environment.
Research suggests that between eight and 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year, causing untold damage to ecosystems and their inhabitants – and it has been estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
Read more: Ocean plastics - selling our oceans down the river
From plastic microbeads in cosmetics to plastic microfibres in clothing, via disposable coffee cups and single-use plastic bottles, the statistics can make for sobering reading. But with growing awareness comes an increase in activism, campaigns and lobbying for change, something that has been highlighted by the UN’s social media campaign for World Environment Day, #BeatPlasticPollution, which is encouraging people to switch disposable items for reusables and share their commitment online.
On the UN Environment website there is also a comprehensive information page with some facts and figures on plastic, alongside concrete steps that you can take every day to cut down on the amount of plastic in your life and the environment.
There are 2,957 official events happening globally for World Environment Day and over 100 in the UK, including screenings, debates, litter picks, plastic-free days and more. 12 art installations are being unveiled across the Asia-Pacific region to raise awareness of plastic pollution, including a giant 400-kilogramme sphere of melted plastic in central Hong Kong, and seven gates in Bangkok’s Central World mall made from tens of thousands of plastic bags.
The host country this year is India, where celebrations kicked off ‘the world’s largest beach clean-up’ on Versova Beach, Mumbai, a project which is now in its 136th week and which has been attended by thousands.
For more information and to find an event near you, visit the World Environment Day website.