People who gather throughout the world to commemorate World Environment Day today will find not very much to celebrate.
In fact, they will have more reasons to mourn, and less to rejoice. The reason is simple: Our only habitable planet is dying a slow death by degradation. And at the hand of a 20th century invention, at that. Plastic. Some may think there is planet Mars to go to should Earth become inhabitable. Let’s not forget, man’s bad habits will soon follow.
According one study humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, the period when the catalyst for polyethylene was invented. If you want to imagine how devastating it is to our oceans, picture this thought experiment of Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara as he told it the Guardian: “If you take the 8.3bn tonnes of plastic and spread it out as ankle deep waste – about 10 inches high – I calculated I could cover an area the size of Argentina with it. That is the world’s eighth largest country.” Geyer expects the figure to quadruple to 34bn by 2050, meaning we will end up with plastic waste the size of four Argentinas.
Plastic isn’t just a problem for our continents; our oceans are being suffocated with it, too. Islands of plastic debris are said to be floating around our oceans. One report even estimates it to be as big as France. That is what happens when we dump 8 million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean every year. Over time the plastic waste is sure to be ingested by marine life and make their way onto our dinner plate. Take a grouper from your favourite supermarket to the lab and you will surely find some traces of microplastics in it.
Malaysia may not be the worst of polluters, but it is ranked eighth among the top ten polluters in the world, according to one report. How do we stop this menacing behaviour of ours? Like in all bad behaviours, the solution lies at the individual and national level. As individuals we must say no to plastics. If we stopped relying on disposable plastic packaging we will be able to stop the manufacturers from producing them. At the national level, we need to focus on a spill-free plastic waste management system to ensure that plastic does not destroy neither the terrestrial environment nor the oceans. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. This will spell trouble for Malaysians as 60 per cent of protein intake among Malaysian is sourced from marine resources. If we want fish on our plate, we better zero rate our love for plastic. The reason is simple: Neither we nor the planet can digest plastic. Yes, you can’t have your plastic and eat fish at the same time. Just remember this: the plastic you dump today will return to your dinner plate tomorrow. May there be more reasons to celebrate World Environment Day than mourn it.