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World Earth Day: Leaders, environmentalists move to halt plastic pollution

World leaders and environmentalists have chosen the 2024 Earth Day to negotiate and proffer solutions to end plastic pollution. Earth Day, which is marked every…

World leaders and environmentalists have chosen the 2024 Earth Day to negotiate and proffer solutions to end plastic pollution.

Earth Day, which is marked every April 22, reminds the world about the importance of environment conservation and sustainability, encouraging the coming together to take action for a healthier planet and brighter future. The day raises awareness and inspires change, fostering a deep connection with nature.

This year’s theme: “Planet vs Plastic”, coincided with the Fourth Session of the Inter-Governmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, where delegates from 174 countries have gathered in the Canadian capital of Ottawa to chat the way forward.

The event, which started on April 23 will end on April 29, and is the meeting before negotiations are expected to conclude later this year. 

The Executive Secretary of INC for Plastic Pollution, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, said both people and the planet were suffering profoundly from the effects of plastic pollution, hence that the negotiating session was pivotal.

She said, “It is an opportunity to make significant progress for a robust agreement that would allow future generations to live in a world free of plastic pollution.”

After two years of work, INC has gone from general views to a revised draft text, a development Mathur-Filipp called “a fast result which is a testament to the strong leadership and active engagement to date.”

While the time frame for a final agreement has long been viewed as ambitious, it matches the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis, noted Mathur-Filipp. 

She further said, “The science is clear, and the solutions are available to us to end plastic pollution. Given that humanity is on track to triple the amount of plastic we produce annually by 2060, it is vital that we continue to make concrete progress and deliver an agreement by the end of this year.” 

According to a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report, the negotiations come amid what experts have called a mounting plastics crisis. 

UNEP said that since the 1950s, 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic had been produced, of which 7 billion tonnes have become waste, filling up landfills and polluting lakes, rivers, the soil and the ocean.

While noting that humanity now produces 430 million tonnes of plastic each year, two-thirds of which is contained in short-lived products which soon become waste, UNEP said some of the plastic wound up in the food chain where it had the potential to harm human health.

“The goal during INC-4 is to advance a draft text of the global instrument so it can be finalised in Busan, Republic of Korea, in December. The talks so far have focused on reducing pollution during the entire life-cycle of plastics, from their design to their disposal,” the report reads in part. 

Why plastic pollution is a problem

According to experts, aside from polluting the environment and constituting danger to wildlife, it also contributes to the climate crisis.    

Plastics, made from fossil fuels such as crude oil, which are transformed via heat and other additives into a polymer are usually affordable and used in packaging products, but it is thrown away on a massive scale.

While research has shown that every year more than 280 million tonnes of short-lived plastic products become waste, it showed that only nine per cent of plastic ever produced has been recycled. 

“Overall, 46 per cent of plastic waste is land-filled, while 22 per cent is mismanaged and becomes litter. Unlike other materials, plastic does not biodegrade. This pollution chokes marine wildlife, damages soil and poisons groundwater, and can cause serious health impacts,” according to a report following the research.

Therefore, the Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Dr Nnimmo Bassey, called for a drastic reduction in the use of plastics to save planet earth from suffocation.

In an event to mark the Earth Day, Dr Bassey shed light on serious environmental problems faced from the climate crisis to air pollution and deforestation.

He said, “World Earth Day reminds us as humans that the earth is ours to protect and preserve, but over time humans have abandoned their roles in protecting the planet because of selfishness and drive for profit.

 “We stand united in our fight against non-biodegradable waste pollution. Our addiction to single-use plastics suffocates the planet. Plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose, clog our water bodies and cause harmful impacts as a result of their chemical composition. Sadly, the world is literally a plastic civilisation due to a vested interest in hydrocarbons and ease of application.”

Dr Bassey, while advocating urgent actions to ban the production and usage of single-use plastics, further urged action by everyone to be involved in efforts to kick out plastics.

He said, “Now is a critical time to choose between planet and plastic. Good sense tells us to choose the planet, our mother earth that sustains all lives. Poor sense driven by profit urges humans to choose plastics because of the ease they bring despite the harmful impacts on our health, climate and overall health of the planet.”

He further said that as the Earth Day was marked, alarm must be sounded that it was time to uproot plastics from their fossil base or be ready to be turned into plastic humans living plastic lives and heading to an infernal plastic future. 

He noted that, “The Planet vs Plastics campaign is a call to arms; a demand that we act now to end the scourge of plastics and safeguard the health of every living being on our planet. We are submerged in a sea of plastic waste, from our creeks to the ocean. It’s time we did better!”

Meanwhile, the federal government has disclosed that it is putting in place a national plastic waste recycling programme aimed at establishing at least one plastic recycling plant in each of the 774 LGAs in the country as an effort to promote sound circular economic principles and practices in the country.

The Minister of State for Environment, Dr Iziaq Kunle Salako, who disclosed this during a workshop in Ogun State earlier this year, said the government would also enforce national policies on plastic waste management.


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