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Dr. Parveen Kumar

Earth, the only planet in this universe to host life is now home to about 8 billion human beings. Besides, it also assorts trillions of other organisims. It not only provides us with everything we want, but also everything we need to survive. This fifth largest planet in the solar system provides the food we need for life, water we need for hydration, air and the oxygen we need to breathe. Literally everything we need comes from this one planet. We rely upon it for our existence in many different ways. Everything in this planet demands proper conservation and a justifiable development without which a proper balance cannot be achieved. All the components of this planet are equally important and a disturbance to any one of the component have serious and adverse repercussions on the other components ultimately affecting the planet as a whole.

Over the past few decades, human beings and various anthropogenic activities have irrevocably upset the balance existing on this planet and as a result, the world is passing through one of its severe crisis. The crisis if not addressed urgently and properly can lead to a catastrophe. The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity viz. climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far-reaching.

An important component of our planet is our land which we put to different uses. The land represent a natural ecosystem composed of many elements those exhibit diverse bio physical characteristics that are interlinked and interdependent. It also supports a number of economic activities and influences health and nutrition of man and animals. Due to poor soil and water management practices about 40 to 50 per cent of the land area suffers from degradation of one or the other kind. The indiscriminate use of plant protection chemicals during green revolution and thereafter in states like , , and Uttar Pradesh to increase the crop yields has led to water pollution. Such is the extent that drinking such polluted water has resulted in many deadly diseases among peoples in the states like Punjab and Haryana. Temperature is on the rise. Sea levels are increasing. Floods and droughts are on the rise. Coastal areas are now unsafe for human settlements. One of the most talked of challenges of present day and that has received as well as international attention is the plastic pollution and that too of Single Use Plastics (SUPs). If we do not act now, extinction may be humanity's most enduring legacy. To aware the masses about the threats to earth and to work for restoring the health of this planet; World Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22.

HISTORY: Originated in 1970, the event is now coordinated and celebrated internationally by the Earth Day Network in more than 193 countries across the globe. Earth Day was celebrated in April 1970 for the first time to bring the environmental condition into the national agenda. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans took part in different U.S. cities. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, when San Francisco activist John McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson separately asked Americans to join in a grassroots demonstration. Dealing with dangerously serious issues concerning toxic drinking water, air pollution, and the effects of pesticides, an impressive 20 million Americans 10% of the population ventured outdoors and protested together. President of the United States of America Richard Nixon led the nation in creating the Environmental Protection Agency, which followed with successful laws including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Environmental Activist McConnell originally had chosen the spring equinox (March 20, 1970), but Nelson chose April 22, which ended up becoming the official celebration date. (Given that the date of the spring equinox changes over time, it may have made things more complicated to go with the astronomical event rather than just a calendar date.)

THEME: The themes of the international days are always linked to main fields of action of the United Nations, namely the maintenance of international peace and security, the promotion of sustainable development, the protection of human rights and the guarantee of international law and humanitarian action. This year the theme of Earth Day is Planet vs Plastics. The theme highlights the hazards to environment due to use of plastics.

THREATS DUE TO PLASTICS: Plastics are literary everywhere. A study published in the journal Science Advances says that over the past sixty years, around eight billion tons of plastic has been produced of which 90.5 percent has not been recycled. This year's theme Planet vs Plastic demand a 60% reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040. In 1950, world produced just two million tons of plastic which has now exceeded over 450 million tons. Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years and the production is expected to double by 2050. More than one million plastic water bottles are sold every minute. Plastic contains additives that can extend the life of products, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down. Further adding to the woes are the Micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are now in almost everything and everywhere. Even in most of the food we eat and water we drink, micro-plastics are present. Micro-plastics are tiny synthetic particles of plastic ranging from microscopic to half an inch that never disappears. A study also reveals that we're ingesting a credit card size worth of plastic every single week as humans and the real health impacts of that, we don't truly know and don't truly understand.

Another high degree threat emerges from the Single Use Plastics (SUPs). SUPs are often misunderstood to be polythene carry bags, but it is not the case. These include grocery bags, food packaging products, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery. What is unfortunate is that about 70 per cent of plastic packaging products are converted into plastic waste in a short span, according to the last estimate done by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2015. Almost 66 per cent of plastic waste, comprising poly bags, multilayer pouches used for packing food items, etc (belonging to high-performance poly ethylene/ low-density polyethylene or polypropylene materials), was sourced mainly from households and residential localities. The composition of our waste has also changed drastically in the last decade adding more plastics to the waste that we generate. About 47 per cent of the plastic waste generated globally, came from multi-layered packaging waste. Nearly half came from Asia, according to the UN.

Since 1950, about 9 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced globally and this is equivalent to more than four Mount Everest of waste. Globally, only nine per cent of the plastic is getting recycled, about 12 per cent incinerated and 79 per cent ends up in landfills, according to a report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2018). Experts also believe that plastic products have an end life and cannot be recycled more than three-four times. In fact, the CPCB has warned that recycled products are at times more harmful to the environment because of added chemicals and colours.

In keeping with the saying, ‘better late than never', Prime minister of the country Sh. Narendra Modi has already declared a war on it. Countries have now started taking stringent measures against the use of SUPs. Many countries and states have already imposed bans on plastic. Bangladesh became the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002. In 2008, Rwanda imposed a blanket ban on the sale, use, and production of plastic bags.

THE WAY FORWARD: Plastic ban can be effective only if users simply switch to alternatives such as paper, cloth or jute bags. There is also an imminent need for a rethink on the alternate options which are cheap, durable and easily available. This has to be accompanied by targeted campaigns and social networking tools which can make people aware of the concerns and alternatives to plastics. The private sector is also not far behind in tackling this menace. The Coca-Cola has pledged to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells throughout the world by 2030. PepsiCo has also set a goal of designing all it's packaging to be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, while increasing its use of recycled materials and decreasing its packaging's carbon impact. Unilever has committed itself to making 100% of its plastic packaging recyclable by 2025. Wal-Mart has announced that by 2025, 100% of its packaging for its private-brand products would be recyclable. By 2025, L'Oréal's plastic packaging will all be rechargeable, refillable, recyclable or compostable.

The largest civic observance in the World, World Earth Day thus educates us about what we have and what we are losing by acting in ways that aren't environmentally friendly or energy efficient. It reminds us that we need to take action now to protect our environment. This day also helps in analyzing the condition of the planet and to discuss a unified response to save the planet. It is a reminder that clean air, flourishing forests, and water are crucial for life on Earth.


The author writes on agriculture & social issues; can be reached at








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