June , 2024
The battle for sustainability: Earth Day’s message of ‘Planet vs. Plastics
20:54 pm

Kuntala Sarkar

World Earth Day, observed annually on April 22 worldwide, commemorates contemporary environmental advancements and promotes awareness of the imperative to conserve Earth and its resources. Earth Day 2024 adopts the theme ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ to spotlight the pollution stemming from the escalating use of plastics.

Plastic Production and Climate Change

At the outset of plastic production, fossil fuels are consumed to generate energy, emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which significantly contribute to global temperature rises. Projections for 2024 anticipate global plastic waste production to hit 220 million tonnes, with 70 million tonnes being environmentally detrimental. A United Nations Inter-governmental Negotiating Panel on Climate Change report warns of irreversible climate change by 2030, largely influenced by plastic production. To address plastic pollution, the United Nations convened its fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution session from April 23, advancing discussions on a treaty to curb plastic pollution, albeit amid substantial disagreements regarding global limits on plastic production.

A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in the USA suggests that meeting the goal of restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius before 2060 is currently beyond reach. To align with the Paris Agreement, measures must be taken to reduce plastic production by 12 to 17% by 2024 to mitigate further temperature increases.

Impact of plastic pollution 

The increasing global consumption of plastics and their resistance to degradation pose signi-ficant environmental challenges. This review provides an overview of current knowledge concerning polymer biodegradation, parti- cularly focusing on poly (ethylene tere-phthalate) (PET). Plastic pollution has become a pressing threat to global ecology due to its persistence and widespread use in various industries. It originates from both land-based and marine sources, with plastic waste entering waterways through illegal dumping and poorly contained waste. Once in the ocean, plastic debris harms marine life by causing injury, ingestion, and entanglement, with adverse effects on ecosystems and human health. Additionally, plastics release chemical contaminants into the environment, further exacerbating toxicity concerns.

Addressing marine plastic pollution re-quires urgent solutions and mitigation strategies. Plastics accumulated in ocean basins are categorized into four size levels: megaplastics, macroplastics, mesoplastics, and microplastics. Microplastics originate from various sources, including personal care products and the fragmentation of larger plastics through environmental processes. They are predominantly present in marine

and coastal environments, where they interact with synthetic and organic pollutants and metals. The density of microplastics influences their distribution in the water column, with some plastics floating due to low density while others sink. As a result, microplastic pollution is widespread across all layers of coastal and marine systems, impacting biodiversity, economic activities, and human health negatively.

Awareness of the current state, severity, and harmfulness of plastic waste accumulation, along with emerging trends and scientific approaches for prevention and reduction strategies, is crucial for all involved. Annually, the global production of plastic bottles reaches 500 billion, contributing to approximately eight million tonnes of plastic entering oceans. Single-use plastics, like utensils and plates, offer convenience but inflict serious harm on the planet. Identifying and adopting alternative products is imperative. Amidst our busy lives, attention to waste disposal details can be overlooked. Recycling is vital in combating plastic pollution, yet misplacement of plastic waste remains a challenge. Proper disposal consideration is essential before discarding plastic items. Rise of global temperature and depletion of Ozone layer 

According to reports from the USA-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2023 marked the warmest year on record, with forecasts indicating a continued upward trend in temperatures in the years ahead. The escalating global warming phenomenon is triggering the melting of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, potentially leading to rising sea

levels. Carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases are contributing to the retention of heat on the Earth’s surface, resulting in rising temperatures. This temperature surge is disrupting the timing, weather patterns, and overall temperature of seasons. Additionally, the ozone layer is depleting due to the increased usage of CFC-emitting devices, allowing more harmful UV rays to penetrate the Earth’s surface.

Europe : most affected continent of global warming

In 2023, Europe experienced a record-breaking number of days with extreme heat stress, highlighting the growing threat of increasingly deadly summers across the continent. Catastrophic flooding, severe droughts, violent storms, and the largest wildfire in Europe also occurred, causing billions of dollars in damages and affecting over two million people, according to a joint report by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The report indicates that Europe is warming at twice the global average rate, with heatwaves expected to become longer and more intense in the future. This, combined with aging populations and urbanization, will have serious implications for public health.

Scientists attribute these extreme weather events to greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing more frequent and severe occurrences. Additionally, glaciers across Europe experienced ice loss, while Greece faced its worst wildfire in EU history. 2023 was also marked by significant flooding impacting 1.6 million people and storms affecting another 550,000 individuals.

World’s largest private companies falling short on  limate targets According to John Lange of Net Zero Tracker, the slow adoption of climate commitments among the world’s largest private firms is attributed to the lack of market pressure, reputational incentives, and regulatory oversight compared to publicly-listed companies. Only 40 out of the top 100 private firms globally have established net-zero carbon emissions goals to address climate change. Among those that have set targets, only eight have provided detailed plans on how they intend to achieve them. Notably, none of the eight fossil fuel companies covered in the report have committed to net-zero targets, contrasting with 76% of the sector’s largest publicly traded firms.  Additionally, the European Union has introduced two climate regulations—the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)—which will soon mandate thousands of large companies to disclose their climate impacts and emissions, and take measures to mitigate them.

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