Earth Day 2024: Planet vs. Plastic

Rox Pena
Rox Pena

Earth Day was celebrated last Monday, April 22 with focus on ending plastic pollution. This year’s theme, Planet vs. Plastics, calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong United Nations (UN) Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems today. In addition to pollution, plastic also contributes to climate change. Ninety-nine per cent of plastic is made from fossil fuels. As a result, the full lifecycle of plastics is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse emissions.

Plastic is eaten by marine animals and sea birds because it looks and smells like their food. When plastic breaks down into small pieces, it creates more problems not just to marine animals but to us humans. A recent study made by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center have found that microplastics are having a significant impact on our digestive pathways, making their way from the gut and into the tissues of the kidney, liver and brain.

The world is now producing twice as much plastic as it did twenty years ago, with forecasts suggesting production will almost triple by 2050. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Another 19% is incinerated, 50% ends up in landfill and 22% evades waste management systems and goes into uncontrolled dumpsites, is burned in open pits or ends up in terrestrial or aquatic environments, especially in poorer countries.

The UN is targeting to come up with a legally binding treaty this year to address the plastic pollution problem. The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC4), the body formed by the UN to draft the treaty, was opened last Tuesday, April 23, in Ottawa, Canada and will end on Monday, April 29.

The drafting of the treaty will not be easy. The fossil fuel industry is putting up a strong resistance so that it can continue to increase production. In fact, fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumbered the delegates from different countries in the INC3 session in Nairobi last year.


Earth Day begun in the United States in September 1969 when Senator Gaylord Nelson from the State of Wisconsin proposed the idea for a nationwide teach-in about the environment. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place across the United States. Approximately 20 million people took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. The movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.


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