World Environment Day is coming up on June 5 and this year the theme is — you guessed it — Beat Plastic Pollution. The UN has identified India as the global host of this day in 2018. Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and Erik Solheim, head, UN Environment, made this formal announcement in mid-February.
The official website — Beat Plastic Pollution — urges governments, industries, communities, and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health. While it has always been considered part of the Indian cultural DNA to co-exist with nature, we somehow still fail against global benchmarks on pollution and harming the environment.
A recent biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum ranked India among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, falling from a previous ranking of 141 in 2016. India also ranks as the 12th biggest polluter to oceans by plastic that is left unchecked. While there is all this disheartening data for us to digest we need to remain positive and focus on the change that we can hope to be for the future and security of our country. In the words of Dr Harsh Vardhan, our Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
“If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our green social responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet”. Considering that we produce and consume more plastic than we can dispose, manage or recycle properly, it is up to the overall world community to unite against this issue that is severely threatening our environment. Some quick facts on plastic pollution that are seriously scary include — The worldwide consumption of plastic bags annually is a staggering 500 billion.
With a number so large it is difficult to even wrap our heads around the enormity of the problem, making it easier to fall to the excuse — this is too big for me to change, or I am helpless. If we stop to think of plastic usage in our daily lives, more than 50 per cent of it will be single use or disposable. This is the first step to change — Start refusing and reducing our usage of single use plastics including bags, bottles, cups, plates, spoons and other disposable plastic items or packaging.
This year by partnering this effort with the UN, the Government of India has committed to organising and promoting the World Environment Day celebrations through a series of engaging activities and events generating strong public interest and participation. From pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities — India will lead the initiative by setting an example.
As a result, there are several organisations in Chennai organising beach and lake clean-ups, plastic collection/recycling drives and awareness events to put an end to plastic pollution. This weekend, watch out for these listings, and engage actively to show that you care to stop our planet from drowning in plastic. Remember — ridding your homes and offices of plastic starting this World Environment Day is a first step to a plastic-free future. Jai Hind
The writer is an architect, urban designer, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects