It is that time of the year when the world comes together to celebrate Mother Nature by highlighting issues that affect her the most and making steps to address them. As we celebrate this year’s United Nations World Environment Day on June 5, I am particularly impressed by the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution.” Slow, silent, omnipresent, ever-increasing, more toxic than previously thought, the plastic pollution’s reality bears sobering consequences and it is only just getting the proper attention it deserves. As the world population continues to grow and, inevitably, the amount of garbage we produce, it is becoming obvious that we now have front row seats to the ‘greatest, most unprecedented’, plastic waste tide ever faced.
A common description of plastic pollution is when plastic has gathered in an area and has begun to negatively impact the natural environment and create problems for plants, wildlife, and even human population.
Plastic has only really existed for the last 70 years, but in that time it has become ubiquitous transforming everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing.
While its usefulness cannot be contested, it is also proven that plastics are composed of major toxic pollutants that have the potential to cause great harm to the environment in the form of air, water, and land pollution. There is also the fact that, due to its durability, it is not biodegradable, which poses a big problem to the environment and its inhabitants. Nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today.
As you all may know, there are many planets in the universe, Jupiter, the brother of planet earth, Mars, etc, but science tells us that our Earth is the only planet with life. Various explorations of the rest of the planets show they do not have water, oxygen, rivers and oceans, trees and plants, therefore, no inhabitants or food. However, the debate is still ongoing in the scientific community on the possibility of life in other planets. As that has yet to be proven, it is clear that the destruction of earth will be the end of mankind. It comes to reason, therefore, that when the planet earth was created billions of years ago, the trees and shrubs, the rivers the seas and the oceans were there before human beings and other inhabitants because we needed the oxygen, the air and we needed the food to be able to survive.
It then becomes very important to protect and nurture the very thing ensuring our existence. Sadly, this has not been the case and this year’s focus, plastic pollution, is just one of the many other man-made menaces threatening our existence. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “to forget how to tend the soils and nurture the land is to forget ourselves.” Alas, it is clear as day that we have forgotten ourselves. Statistics abound showing the damage plastic pollution has done to human life and the environment.
We don’t have to look very far to witness the damaging effects of plastic on land. Around the nation, we see plastic in our gutters, impeding the flow of water waste and thereby causing blockages, which ultimately result in flooding during the rainy season. On our farmlands, we see plastic sachet water wrappers hanging from trees as a result of the wind relocating them from the ground and onto tree branches.
Some will even argue that as a result of the plastic on the ground, crops do not get the necessary nutrient from the land because they have to compete with the plastic for these nutrients. Furthermore, as we all know, plastic contains harmful toxins that are released in the presence of heat – this is why it is advised not to consume water in plastic bottles that have been left in the car for too long. If toxins are released from plastic in the presence of heat, doesn’t that tell us that these same toxins are released into the land where our food grows?
In essence, the phrase ‘Land is Life’ has a deeper meaning because, if truly land is life, the harmful things we do to our land directly affects our health. It is no wonder that the mortality rate for men and women in Nigeria is one of the lowest in the world. It affects us all equally, the rich and the poor, the young and the old. If harmful toxins are leaking into our land, we are consuming crops that grow from that land. If our animals are eating food that has been directly affected by one form of pollution or another, we are consuming these animals and in the long run, we develop health problems that can eventually become fatal.
You are not any safer from the air pollution around just because you are sitting comfortably in your air-conditioned car or house, because the air that is filtered and recycled in the compressor is the same polluted air everyone else is breathing.
In developing an effective strategy for curbing plastic pollution in particular, we can take a clue from the cigarette campaign of many years ago which didn’t put a full stop to the use but greatly reduced it. Many years ago, there was hardly any designated smoking spot so people smoked anywhere and everywhere. This has changed and in a number of places, smoking isn’t even allowed.
Tackling the plastic waste problem needs a collective effort from everyone. There are many ways to address this problem from pushing for policies that ban plastic bags to establishing more recycling plants. In my own little way to commemorate the World Environment Day, FADE Africa brought together people from different walks of life to discuss the problem and also proffer solution. Wale Adebiyi of Wecyclers talked about the need to imbibe the culture of recycling, school students made beautiful crafts from plastic waste showing that treasure could be found in waste, artists like Yelloseese and Odunayo Ajayi depicted artworks made from or about plastics and Olusola Ajagbonna, a talented upcycling expert taught on ways to upcycle our plastic waste.
I will conclude with this appeal by the current Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Erik Solheim: “Making the switch from disposable plastic to sustainable alternatives is an investment in the long-term future of our environment.” It benefits us all.