In an action to raise awareness of environmental protection and to mark World Environment Day on the 5thof June, the UN has issued a report highlighting the grave environmental threat of plastic. The report, launched in New Delhi, acknowledged that some of the methods adopted by various countries have proved to be effective against plastic pollution. However, it also warned that urgent further actions must be taken before it is too late.
As is stated by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, the number of microplastics in the ocean has now astonishingly exceeded the number of stars in the galaxy, since each year 8 million tons of plastic was dumped into seas and oceans. In view of such disturbing facts, Mr. Guterres alerted that “if present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish.”
Plastic, once dumped into the ocean, will not only kill marine life but also enter the human food chain. Nevertheless, the most worrisome point made by the report is probably the fact that some countries’ efforts against plastic pollution end up with limited success. Two major reasons are the lack of affordable alternative and a failure to enforce strategies stringently. For instance, according to the report, a ban on disposable plastics in New Delhi only witnessed little impact due to “poor enforcement.” Although India is paying increasing attention to environmental protection in recent years, most scenic places are still full of plastic pollution. Indeed, a local report stated that more than 62 million tons of plastic waste were produced in India every year, while only 43 million tons is properly collected.
Having said that, the report also noticed some successful actions taken by various countries. For example, after researching upon case studies from more than 60 countries, 30 percent of them, including Morocco and China, have significantly limited the consumption of plastic bags after introducing restrictions. Also, government data indicated that there were fewer plastic bags on the seabed in the UK due to charges on supermarket carrier bags. Meanwhile, the US and Rwanda imposed bans on products such as Styrofoam, which also proved effective. Owing to these successes, the head of UN Environment Erik Solheim encouraged people to continue the battle and said that “plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.”
No matter what success we have currently achieved, the report still reminded us that as many as 5 trillion plastic bags are used globally every year. Hence at this stage, it is far too early to announce that we have eradicated the issue of plastic pollution. In fact, to fully tackle the issue I believe there are several essential steps that all countries need to take. Firstly, successful efforts must be continued and learned from. Countries shouldn’t be satisfied with the current progress, instead, they should study and incorporate successful experience from other countries. Secondly, those still struggle with plastic pollution should understand why their actions failed. Usually, it is either because there weren’t enough alternatives to plastics or because local governments didn’t properly enforce useful strategies, or both. Thirdly, governments should cooperate with local business to make the actions more efficient. In this regard, the UK has set a good example. More than 40 big UK businesses have promised to get rid of single-use plastics from packaging, which is known as the world-first “plastic pact.” Last but not least, governments could provide incentives to businesses to encourage and promote the use of recyclable products. It is always necessary to remember that all these actions will not only benefit the environment, but also all of us.
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