Hunger games: poisoning the planet
We are addicted to the convenience of single-use plastic items; it can’t be said more simply than that. They have seeped so deeply into all aspects of our daily lives that we have even stopped questioning the viability and safety of using them in our homes.
We do not stop to consider even for a moment what will happen to that take-away cup of coffee, or the straw that we used for our drink, the plastic bottle we carried with us during our hike and threw away, or the plastic bag in which we carried our groceries.
It is mind boggling to consider the extent of this addiction, starting in our homes, in our towns and cities and spreading globally. We have developed a major appetite for plastic without considering its damaging effects on our health, our ecosystem and our marine life and, in particular, the environmental impact of single-use items.
It is imperative for all of us, as individuals as well as a part of the global community, to take stock of the situation and to beat plastic pollution. We cannot escape the dire consequences of dumping huge quantities of the material in our environment, a legacy that will take hundreds of years to break down.
Each of us shares this planet with 7.6 billion people, the majority of whom have developed a voracious appetite for using disposable plastic. Imagine the alarming amount of waste we are collectively generating and adding to our environment. There are many reasons that should persuade us to reject a lifestyle that includes single-use plastic: they are made of fossil fuels and hence have a huge carbon footprint; plastic bottles and utensils leach toxins into our food and drinks, which have been linked to hormone disruptions and cancer; and they pollute our oceans, killing birds and marine life.
The solution to pollution caused by single-use plastic is creating awareness of its menace.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
Grocery bags and other plastic debris have been found in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Images from the depths have revealed deep-sea creatures entangled in plastic. This is also harmful to human health as micro plastic is ingested by fish and so enters the food chain.
In Pakistan, 65 percent of the garbage that litters beaches along our coastline consists of non-degradable plastic (according to WWF-Pakistan). Additionally, most of the unauthorized dumping grounds for garbage in Karachi are close to the coast, resulting in the accumulation of plastic waste in the Arabian Sea. The illegal practice of setting fire to garbage dumps in various parts of the country results in a toxic plastic smog.
The solution to pollution caused by single-use plastic is creating awareness of its menace. We are all well aware that for every action we choose, consciously or unconsciously, we also choose the consequences. Reducing plastic waste, reusing products and recycling are all ways to tackle the toxic trash problem.
The Scottish government, for example, has banned single-use coffee cups in all of its official buildings, including their cafes and restaurants. Similarly, many Asian countries are collectively initiating a clean-up effort by banning single-use plastic bags. Bangladesh was the first country in the world to impose a ban on plastic; other countries to take similar action include the Philippines, Cambodia, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. India, one of the top polluters in the world, pledged its commitment to the Paris Agreement when Prime Minister Narender Modi announced plans to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022. Pakistan should learn the lessons from other countries in the region and take similar steps to ban the use of plastic.
Another solution to the problem is the use of more-sustainable alternatives to disposable plastic. In this regard, public-private partnerships could help minimize its use. It is also important to start phasing out single-use plastic in our daily lives by designing end-of-pipe solutions such as recycling and proper waste disposal.
A viable solution could come in the form of the “polluter pays” concept. If our government was to levy charges for the use of plastic, this could curb our dependence on single-use plastic, just like in other parts of the world.
We all face an existential threat to our survival on this planet, and if we do not undertake a major shift in our collective behavior the problem will be compounded, with dire consequences.
– Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the areas of environment and health. She has a keen interest in climate change and its impacts on population health and human security.