September 29, 2023

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World Environment Day: Why plastic is the axis of planetary pollution

World Environment Day: Why plastic is the axis of planetary pollution
The photograph of the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, along with the work “Plastic We Live In,” was produced by the artist group Loose Interruptus. Photo from Facebook Luzinterruptus / “We live in plastic”. Obelisk of Buenos Aires 2023. (Luzinterruptus Melisa Hernández @abrazo_brandexperience)

The world produces flexibility On a large scale. That is all it has become It is one of the most important pollutants of soil, air and seas. Countries around the world have agreed to phase out the substance by 2025 United Nations Organization (UN) This year was dedicated, in world environment day, To this problem under the motto: “For a plastic-free planet”.

To get a sense of what plastic is, here are some numbers: Production has risen over the past two decades: Between 2003 and 2016 was more than in the entire 20th century. Plastic is cheap and versatile with countless uses in many industries. But almost half of all plastics are used to make short-lived or single-use products, which have a shelf life of less than three years, most of which are consumed in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

In 2015, 60% of all plastics produced had already reached the end of their useful life and were thrown away.

Workers collect plastic in the Tisza River near Vasarosznameni, Hungary / (REUTERS)

This is indicated by a statement World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Which brings up another piece of bad news: Globally, less than 10% of plastic products are recycled. Although their lifespan is short, plastics can last in the environment for decades or even centuries.

“Estimates vary widely, but it is believed to date Between 86 and 150 million tonnes of plastic waste has accumulated in the ocean. As more plastic flows into the ocean every day, the problem is getting worse: it’s estimated In 2016, 11 million tons of plastic waste entered the ocean and other aquatic ecosystems.”, the report adds.

But are all plastics harmful? How can the production and consumption of this substance, which is so useful for certain applications, be regulated? Answers to these questions must begin with several explanations, some of which are geopolitical. Humanity uses this material mainly in packaging, which accounts for 44% of uses, But even in electronics, cars and buildings, it represents 18% of applications. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has assessed the footprint of plastic trade throughout its life cycle. Global trade in plastics moves over $1 trillion a year, “about 5% of global trade.””.

60% of all plastics produced have already reached the end of their useful life and will be discarded by 2015.

The same body predicts that By 2021, 369 million tons of plastic will be sold worldwide. It fills up”More than 18 million trucks”, or “return sequence Around the world 13 times”. According to Plastic EuropeIn the same year, China produced nearly a third through polymerization and recycling. The United States, the world’s largest per capita consumer, is the leading exporter of primary plastics, along with the European Union, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Not mentioned yet, but all of these items Derived from the oil industry.

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In this sense, many countries, including representatives of Latin America and civil society, are proposing to separate plastic products Two groups: reducible or removable Significantly short-term and currently cannot be eliminated or significantly reduced, but global control measures are needed to promote recycling and safe management and disposal. In both cases it is necessary to have legal instruments to make it possible.

“Latin America and the Caribbean have made progress in controlling high-risk plastics, such as the ban or elimination of single-use plastics. However, regulations are fragmented and disparate, failing to address transboundary impacts to the extent necessary to protect nature, people and their livelihoods from plastic pollution,” said Roberto Troya, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. WWF.

Plastic production has accelerated in the last decade / (File)

In this sense Manuel JaramilloGeneral Director of Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina, “Argentina has been a pioneer in the region by passing legislation banning the addition of microplastics to cosmetics and oral hygiene products. Implementation of this standard, effective from the end of 2022, will be an appropriate contribution to the commitments derived from this agreement.

“However, our country still owes a packaging law, which establishes minimum standards for its comprehensive management, promoting its reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery and, ultimately, its final disposal, and which includes the principle of extended producer responsibility”, highlighted the Fundación. Vida Silvestre Argentina expert and concluded: “Pollution by plastic is a global problem with local effects that transcend borders, which is why it is urgent to achieve a coordinated global response”.

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Despite regulations and voluntary measures at the national level, efforts to prevent plastic from entering the environment are inadequate and distributed hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from a specific location. Single-use plastics, microplastics and lost or discarded fishing gearKnown as “ghost networks”, now forming Most plastic pollution in the sea.

Only 10% of plastic waste is recovered (REUTERS / Johannes P. Christo)

As mentioned, despite industry efforts and lobbying to encourage plastics to be recycled, only 10% of this waste is recovered. Taking into account that 60% of the total world production is discarded, these numbers appear to be minimal. Meaning: recycling bottles and lids is not enough.

“No matter how hard you try, Recycling is not enough. The The chemical composition of plastic is limited and allows only limited recyclingContrary to what happens with other materials such as glass or metal. Plastic can only be recycled 2 or 3 times. According to National Geographic. “This means they cannot enter the production chain endlessly, and at some point they will be discarded,” he says. Clara Subriaux, Public Policy Coordinator unplastify.

Plastic threat to marine life (Gettyimages)

Added to this issue Toxicity of substances and their health hazard. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that “More than 13,000 chemicals in plastic, of which more than 3,200 are known to be hazardous to human health. When a Report Greenpeace USA, He also pointed to recycling.

Plastic toxicity actually increases with recycling. It is clear that plastics have no place in a circular economy and are the only real solution to ending this pollution. Reduces production drastically”, assured Graham Forbes, head of the Global Plastics Campaign Greenpeace USA.

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During an international summit to try to regulate and negotiate an agreement by 2025 held in Paris until last Friday, Sergio Federowski, The country’s Deputy Minister of Environment stressed the importance of participation and consensus of all interested parties to ensure the success of the measures emerging from the negotiations. “Argentina considers that this process should have a human rights approach Considering the need to leave no one behind, it enables a fair transition,” he said.

In 2021, 369 million tons of plastic will be sold worldwide, which is “more than 18 million trucks” / (Courtesy: Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina)

Regarding the tools to achieve the objective of sustainable development, the national official expressed: “We reaffirm the need to address the distortions generated by the uneven development of countries, as a result of which the undeniable fact that we are developing countries has suffered greatly from the consequences of a crisis in the origin of which we had little participation. “

And he concluded: “It is almost a utopia to believe that this can be solved with a circular economy. It is necessary to accept the number of extended liability of the manufacturer and pay for the final treatment of the manufactured goods. In this sense, the countries of the Southern Hemisphere should perceive themselves as environmental creditors, whether at climate change or biodiversity summits. Not only do we not have the same production responsibilities, but we also suffer the consequences.

Continue reading:

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