WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY: Map reveals rise of global problem
FOR many of us it's a matter of out of sight, out of mind. But the world desperately needs to address what's been described as one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.
Today, June 5, is World Environment Day and the theme of this year's event chosen by host country India is "Beat Plastic Pollution".
Organisers are inviting the global population to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural environment, our wildlife and our own health - and it's a matter of urgency, they say.
The throwaway culture that exists in much of the world means plastic pollution continues to reach unfathomable levels. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is discarded after a single use.
Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. On average, a person uses a plastic bag for just 12 minutes but the same bag takes 500 years to decompose.
"Making the switch from disposable plastic to sustainable alternatives is an investment in the long-term future of our environment," said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. "The world needs to embrace solutions other than single-use, throwaway plastic"
The United Nation's environmental arm released a report this month highlighting changes that need to be implemented around the world to slow the rate of plastic pollution and move away from single use plastics. With an ever expanding population, the world produced more plastic in the last decade than in the previous century, according to the UN.
"The report is intended to encourage society to question our current use of plastics and consider the adoption of alternative approaches, especially for those items which can be characterised as designed for single use, such as packaging," Peter Kershaw, lead author of the report said.
"Packaging and other single-use items form a large proportion of the plastic litter leaking to the ocean," he added.
The report highlighted a range of plastic materials that frequently cross our path - from plastic food containers to synthetic clothing, to the loose fill that is often used to protect fragile products during transport - and identified them as among the "main culprits" of plastic litter that harm the environment and marine wildlife.
Each year at least 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans. That is the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute and the disastrous consequences of this reality continue to wash up on our beaches.
Over the weekend it was reported that a small male pilot whale died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags. It follows a similar story earlier in the year when Spanish officials found a dead juvenile sperm whale that washed ashore with nearly 30kg of plastic in its stomach.
THE WORLD IS WAKING UP
As a large island of plastic garbage floating in the North Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch grows ever larger (researchers recently said it was bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined) awareness of the plastic pollution problem has also grown.
Yesterday Australian supermarket chain Coles announced it would remove plastic wrapping from its bananas and other fresh produce to cut down on plastic waste.
Competitor Woolworths took a similar step and said it would stop selling plastic straws by the end of 2018 and also said it would remove plastic packaging from 80 fruit and vegetable lines.
As global attitudes change, industries and governments around the world are making drastic moves aimed to reduce the amount of single use plastic waste.
In April UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced she planned to ban the commercial use of disposable plastic products such as cotton buds, drink stirrers and plastic straws. The European Union this month also proposed a ban on items such as plastic straws and plastic cutlery.
While in August 2017 Kenya introduced the world's toughest ban on plastic bags threatening up to four years' imprisonment or fines of $US40,000 for anyone producing, selling - or even just carrying - a plastic bag. It sounds draconian but the reduction in plastic bag pollution has meant other African nations such as Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are reportedly considering following suit. African nations Morocco and Rwanda have already banned the plastic bag.
Much of the changes around the world have been affected by global campaigns like World Environment Day as well as efforts from grassroots conservationist groups and local governments to address the problem - often out of sheer necessity.
In the lead up to World Environment Day, social media users across the world were talking about the issue of plastic pollution. The map below shows where people were most talking about the problem of plastic pollution on Twitter during the month of May, based on geotagging of viral hashtags such as #PlasticOrPlanet, #BeatPlasticPollution and more.
Many of the countries featured in the top map showing a high proportion of tweets relating to plastic pollution such as Kenya, India, Canada and Australia have all introduced plastic bag bans in at least parts of the country in recent years.
It's a trend that the United Nations Environment organisation UNEP hopes continues to spread around the world, particularly to countries like China and Indonesia who are by far the worst offenders when it comes to the scourge of plastic pollution.
AUSSIES CHALLENGED TO DITCH PLASTICS
Australians have been urged to "put down the plastic", otherwise there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, environmental campaigners say.
Although supermarkets have been phasing out single-use plastic bags, with bans in all states except NSW, Australians have to take personal action to reduce their waste, says Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, founder of Plastic Free July Foundation.
Every year each Australian produces 565kg of household waste and 20 million tonnes ends up in landfill.
"Virtually every piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists in some form today," Ms Prince-Ruiz said in a statement on Tuesday to mark World Environment Day.
Recent images from Lord Howe Island have revealed the impact of plastic waste on the birds living on the island - they are often found dead on the beach with a stomach full of plastic parts.
"Those visuals shock everybody, but people don't make that connection with their behaviour," Ms Prince-Ruiz said.
In just over 30 years, the ocean is expected to contain more plastics by weight than fish, according to the foundation.
- With AAP