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Communities around the world came together today for the single largest annual celebration of our environment – World Environment Day. World Environment Day is a global event led by the UN Environment that takes place every June 5 in thousands of communities around the world. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in more than 100 countries. Each year, World Environment Day has a different global host country where the official celebrations take place and a theme.
“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. Chosen by this year’s host, India, the theme of World Environment Day 2018 invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife – and our own health.
The Government of India is committed to organizing and promoting the celebrations of World Environment Day through activities and events that generate great interest and public participation. With plastics cleaning campaigns in public areas, national reserves and beaches, India will lead this initiative giving an example to the world. India, which has one of the highest recycling rates in the world, is emerging as a leader in this sector and its role can be transcendental in the fight against pollution. By organizing World Environment Day 2018, the Indian government is accelerating its leadership on an issue of enormous magnitude.
This year theme has the motto: “If you can not reuse it, refuse it” with the objective “to raise awareness among the population about the need to reduce the amount of plastic that is poured every year into the oceans. ” It provides an opportunity for each of us to embrace the many ways that we can help to combat plastic pollution around the world.
Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 percent of the plastic we use is single use. What’s worse is that nearly one-third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. These can end up circling the Earth four times in a single year, and it can take up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates.
Peru is this year the regional headquarters of the celebrations that will take place in Latin America and the Caribbean and have invited several other countries in the region to join in on the cleaning activities for today. Peru has adopted the motto “Trash is not garbage” for their most innovative recycling campaigns, one that has already turned a million plastic bottles into thousands of ponchilas. You might be asking what is a ‘ponchila’ – it is a combination of the Spanish words “poncho” and “mochila” and refers to a backpack with a built-in poncho. The items were designed to protect the poorest children in the Andes, many of whom must travel several kilometers a day, often in inclement weather, to get to school. Each item is made out of 80 recycled plastic bottles!
Twelve countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will be joining the plastics cleaning campaigns and will be announcing new commitments against plastic pollution in the framework of World Environment Day. These countries are Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, Ecuador, Panama, Saint Lucia, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic.
During the events to celebrate World Environment Day here in the Dominican Republic, The Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Ángel Estévez, announced today that drastic measures will be taken with those who are caught dumping waste in roadside ditches (or in other inappropriate places) and removing materials from rivers. The environmental official said there will be sanctions and called on the entire population to collaborate with the Ministry in the implementation of a plan to reduce the production and use of disposable plastic to achieve proper handling of them, “without that support it is impossible to achieve the results we expect.”
Last year, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced at the United Nations General Assembly that a new bill will be presented to prohibit the use of plastic bags on the coast of the country. The measure was recently approved unanimously by Congress and gives stores and supermarkets six months to comply with the new law. Chile will become the first country in the American continent to ban retailers from using plastic bags, an initiative that aims to protect its more than 8,000 kilometers of coastline.
There are so many things that we can do – from asking the restaurants you frequent to stop using plastic straws, to bringing your own coffee mug to work, to pressuring your local authorities to improve how they manage your city’s waste. Here are some other specific ideas, some listed by UN Environment are:
- Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket
- Pressure food suppliers to use non-plastic packaging
- Refuse plastic cutlery
- Pick up any plastic you see the next time you go for a walk on the beach
What else can we do? Share your ideas on social media using the official hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution and #SinContaminacion. Join the game! Beat plastic pollution by encouraging people to replace their single-use plastic products with reusable alternatives. See details below. Let’s take action, not only today but every day for the rest of our lives, teaching our kids and our families. Every little thing we do counts to have a better world for the future generations.
Join the global game of #BeatPlasticPollution tag!
* Information from worldenvironmentday.global, unenvironment.org, ambiente.gob.do, nytimes.com