It’s World Environment Day on 5 June, as designated by the United Nations in 1974. Over the years, it has become a global platform for public outreach and positive environmental action. The host nation for this year’s World Environment Day programme is India, and on its initiative, the theme for World Environment Day 2018 is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

With plastic having become an environmental, social and economic concern, the UN has said the theme is a call to action for all individuals, enterprises and communities to join hands to combat the huge challenge, by exploring sustainable alternatives and urgently reducing the production and excessive use of single-use plastic.

“The theme 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,” it says.

In her message on the occasion of World Environment Day 2018, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, has invited people to share “ideas and solutions on #BeatPlasticPollution”.

“Together, we can change our habits and beat this problem,” says her message.

Azoulay says nearly one-third of the plastic packaging used by the world bypasses collection systems and ends up polluting the environment, particularly the oceans. “Carried by the seawater currents, billions of plastic fragments are amalgamated in the oceans. Over the last four decades, the amount of this waste has increased a hundredfold in the Pacific Ocean, to the point of forming what is now called the ‘seventh continent’ of plastic, a vast garbage patch swirling around in the North Pacific, the size of one-third of the United States of America,” she says.

The plastic waste in the ocean is not only a threat to marine ecosystems, but also poses a danger to human health by entering the food chain. These risks have been widely discussed by all quarters, including policy-makers, the private sector, environmental NGOs, the media and the scientific community, in recent years.

“UNESCO fully associates itself with reflection and action in support of sustainable development, through its scientific, educational and cultural programmes for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. In this endeavour, plastic pollution is a significant challenge,” says Azoulay.

In this direction, she points out, the Island of Principe Biosphere Reserve (Sao Tome and Principe) and the Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) have launched an awareness-raising and mobilisation campaign entitled “No plastic. A small gesture in our hands”.

“It is above all about changing behaviours and attitudes,” insists Azoulay.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, and Erik Solheim, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Head of UN Environment, had last month jointly announced that India would be hosting the global World Environment Day celebrations on 5 June 2018.

“Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed to making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place”, said Dr Harsh Vardhan had said on the occasion, adding: “If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet.”

Speaking on the occasion, Erik Solheim had said: “It’s a global emergency affecting every aspect of our lives. It’s in the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s destroying our beaches and oceans. India will now be leading the push to save our oceans and planet.”

Addressing the nation on the 44th edition of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on 27 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the Beat Plastic Pollution theme for this year’s World Environment Day and appealed to the people to not use low-grade polythenes and plastics, and try to curb the negative impact of plastic pollution on the environment, wildlife and health.

The Government of India is organising and promoting the World Environment Day celebrations through a series of activities and events. From pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities, a lot of action is already taking place in line with the Beat Plastic Pollution theme.

Some plastic pollution facts

  • The world uses up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year
  • At least 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year. The amount is equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute
  • In the last decade, the world has produced more plastic than what was done in the whole of last century
  • 50%  of the plastic is single-use or disposable
  • 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute
  • Plastic makes up 10% of all of the waste generated by the world