EVERY DAY SHOULD BE EARTH DAY.
Story By: Prince Wako
Yes, Individuals can Combat Plastic Pollution.
We celebrated Earth Day on 22nd April, did you know that? Basically, this event began in 1970. The Earth Day Network is on a mission to diversify and activate environmental movement worldwide, in that regard, the Earth Day 2018 was dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behaviour towards plastics. From grocery bags to plastic straws to makeup – yes you read right, makeup. The earth has been imprisoned in tones of plastics and will remain so under giant plastic chains if we do nothing. I was personally shocked learning that over Eight million metric tons of plastics are dropped into the ocean every year, this translates into one tipper truck every minute. Remember this is for only oceans! Given that research, imagine the quantity dropped in water bodies situated in landlocked countries all over the world! Little wonder, when birds or animals are slaughtered nowadays, specks of plastics are found in their stomachs, guts etc. What then do we know about Plastic Pollution and what can we do as individuals to combat it.
This time, I request the pleasure of your company for a minute of a simple high school chemistry lesson. Think back to that lesson, it could have been in the laboratory or a simple classroom, but for now, let us refer to that related high school chemistry moment that is still vivid in our minds and use it to understand the environment we are living in now. I see three thick dots, i.e. Plastics, health, and poverty. These dots are connected by one big chain, Pollution. In ordinary terms, plastics are chains or strings of like molecules linked together. These chains or strings are termed polymers, this explains why many plastics begin with “poly”, such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene. They never bio-degrade but can fragment into small pieces which can be blown into the air like dust. So with these small particles scattered everywhere, animals, birds, fish, even children are likely to confuse them for food or as small particles, they can find their way into our lungs. Remember most plastics are man-made, they do not grow like vegetables or fruits. Hung in there, we are almost exiting the chemistry laboratory. Plastics are mostly petrochemicals, made from natural gas or from petroleum, a type of oil. Chemical engineers refine the petroleum which goes through a heating process – basically a mixture of chemicals, gases, and fuels. These once exposed to heat can be molded into any shape of one’s choice. From this reaction, we can have women’s nylon stockings, makeup, baby feeding bottles, shopping bags, clothes etc. These are chemicals we are talking about, chemicals that cannot decay, chemicals that harbor cancer, but these are the very substances decorating our homes and environment.
Look at any wetland in a city near you or a beach close by, your eyes will definitely meet piles of empty plastic bottles, polythene bags, straws. These will resultantly be pushed into the water, either by the revelers or cleaners. The World Health Organization gives us a broader definition of Health as “a state of complete, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Over-reliance on these fuels and chemicals is affecting our health, no wonder the cancer levels are higher now. What then do you expect when our homes have been raided by chronic diseases? Definitely, resources that would have been invested will be diverted to footing hospital bills. We all know that poverty is a state of being extremely poor, these unending hospital bills will definitely contribute to it. Just turn around, I suggest only 30 degrees, Plastic pollution will hit you so hard. You will see an accumulation of plastic products in the environment, affecting what human beings use, what animals eat, where human beings sleep, where animals sleep, basically everything. When I talk about the environment, air, land, and water are included. Plastics are cheap, therefore many can afford them and that is why they are everywhere,
many rush into using them. As a result, more of these plastics are used every day, and more is littered all over the environment. Anywhere in the world, plastic waste is evident.
Plastics are made from toxic materials such as benzene and vinyl hydrochloride. These will remain toxic for eternity, no short cut. These chemicals are known to cause cancer and they contaminate our air and soil. So by us polluting our environment with these plastics willingly, we are directly jumping into bed with cancer at our own cost.
It is also a proven fact that smoke given off when plastics are burnt pauses a likelihood of causing acute respiratory and other health problems in those breathing the smoke in. Think of the pregnant women, the children that we are struggling to raise, what will they grow into if our actions are exposing them to such avoidable hazards? The impact will definitely be devastating, a friend of mine once told me that plastics also have an input on the high levels of sterility among men – mmh, scary.
Plastics and their bye products are littering our villages, cities, lakes, oceans, and swamps and contributing to health problems in humans and animals. Scientific research has proven that, chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water. Tens of thousands of animals, whales, birds, etc. Are killed every year from plastic bag litter as these species always mistake plastic bags for food. Plastic bags once ingested, cannot be digested or passed by an animal so it stays in the gut. Research as presented by Swan S. H, 2008 shows that chemicals that are used in plastic manufacture have also been correlated with adverse effects in the human population, including reproductive abnormalities. You will find that in some instances, women will give birth to children with deformities, and when you carefully consider the background, plastic pollution will be guilty.
What steps then can you and I take, or any other human being take to reduce the amount of Plastic waste dumped into our dear environment? Lady Bird Johnson famously said. “The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” Indeed, that thing that all of us share. What we share should be treated with love and respect so that it is preserved for the greater good of all humanity. Sometimes we fail to understand ourselves or what is important for us because we fail to understand and respect our environment. The love that our environment gives us is priceless, so we should be in a position to reciprocate that undying love. As you read this, I want you to kindly stand with me and make an everlasting pledge to reduce the number of plastics we use. We can start now, this very minute.
The choices to combat Plastic pollution should be collective in nature and these must be practiced with consistency. We might be different but we can have a social commitment to our environment where everyone commits to combat plastic pollution. We should adopt reusable mugs or bottles as opposed to the disposables, be it for water, coffee, juice etc. Secondly, next time you order a drink anywhere, say no to the plastic straws and give your reasons without fear. Thirdly, carry shopping bags made out of plant material as opposed to plastics. If you are tempted to use any plastic, please place it in the right bin after use. You are tasked to add something to this list…
Let us make a choice, the right choice. The choice to save our environment. Discussing the future of this world without talking about plastic pollution is impossible. We should support the cause as a unit and live by it every single minute of our lives. Every day should be Earth Day, be kind to Mother Nature