Plastic pollution is a major public health problem. What can we do to reduce the amount of plastic waste?
Microplastics tiny particles that are smaller than 5 millimeters can be found everywhere, even inside our bodies. In the year 2018 the first time they were detected, they appeared within human waste. On March 20, 2022 it was also detected in human lung tissue as well as the blood of humans. They get into our bodies through food items we consume and the water we drink , and even through the air that we breathe. When they become more common over time, there’s ample reason to be concerned about the possible impact for our wellbeing..
Why are microplastics all over the place?
From 1950 to 2020, the annual production of plastic increased from 1.5 million tonnes to 367 million tonnes. Globally, the production is greater than 8 billion tonnes. This includes plastic used for packaging (36 percent) and construction (16 percent) and textile production (14 percent).
Plastic is versatile, practical and affordable, but the huge amount of plastic produced outweighs our ability to manage plastic waste in a safe manner, especially in countries in need, due to illegal disposal and a absence of proper waste management methods. In the present, only 9 percent of the plastic we use can be recycled since there are a few types of plastic that are recyclable. A majority of plastic is burned that can cause a myriad of health concerns based on the efficiency and safety of the methods of burning that range from open fires to incinerators. The rest end up in landfills, dump sites or in litter on streets, forests, rivers, and in oceans.
Based on analysis of 2021 81% of world’s waste enters the oceans via Asia. South-East Asia, for example is one of the major contributors to land-based pollution that leaks into the oceans of the world as 6 of the 10 ASEAN member states producing 31 million tonnes waste each year. When it enters the ecosystem it is difficult to get rid of. It’s tough and easily absorbed into the environment. It stays in the earth for over 500 years, and then breaks into tiny pieces that can be sped around air and water. The plastic is then consumed by fish, human beings or turtles, and sometimes animals become trapped in it and eventually end up dying.
How can you respond to the plastic waste crisis?
The crisis of plastics requires constant and continuous efforts to think differently in order to create a zero waste circular economy. Since the production of plastic far surpasses the capacity of treatment and the need to dramatically reduce the production and usage. The primary focus should be on single-use plastics, such as straws, bags and packaging that can be disposed of immediately following the use. Single-use plastics can be beneficial for a few minutes but their negative consequences can last for centuries or decades.
Regulations and financial incentives and disincentives are being used to cut down on the use of single-use plastics as well as speed up the development of new solutions, like changing from single-use plastics to multi-use plastics, and alternative sustainable options and creating products that can be recycled easily. So far, more than 127 countries have introduced regulations, including tax, bans and levies on single-use plastics. The governments of Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have adopted circular economies strategies to prioritize plastics-related policies and investments.
It is clear that good governance is a key part of the solution, however collaboration and support from the consumer and business sectors must be a part of the solution. Around the world awareness and information campaigns aim at changing the way people behave, for example the use of sustainable methods of consumption as well as the promotion of recycling and alternatives to plastic.
The perceptions of plastic waste Survey of 2,000 people as well as 400 food and drink businesses from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam carried out by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Food Industry Asia (FIA) in 2020, concluded 90% of the population were “extremely concerned” about plastic waste. But , over half of the respondents utilize non-recyclable containers, due to the cultural norms of their communities and a insufficient awareness of reusable containers or alternatives.
But, such efforts cannot entirely solve the problem. This places a significant responsibility on the plastic and oil industry. As per the Minderoo Foundation’s plastic trash manufacturers index 20 companies which include ExxonMobil, Dow and Sinopec produce polymers that are virgin and used to make 55% of the world’s single-use plastic. In addition, a citizen-led plastic audit of brands conducted across 45 countries in 2021 identified global brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle in relation to the amount of waste plastic found at cleaning-ups.
One approach to involve producers in the search for solutions is to introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policyl that requires producers to be accountable for the recycling, collection and disposal of post-consumer goods. A majority of countries implemented such policies. Discussions on policy issues regarding the potential benefits and practicality of EPR-based regulation are currently ongoing in various East and Southern-East Asia countries. Alongside China, Thailand and India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia are also looking at the possibility of introducing EPR. The transition towards a circular economy as well as stimulating innovation can be made by impact investments and innovative finance. Financial institutions and corporate entities have become key players in bringing about the change.
It is now the right time to initiate action locally and globally to transform our world to decrease the dependence on plastics and to ensure the sustainability of our planet to ensure our health, security and well-being.