June 5 marks World Environment Day – the “UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.”
Since the 1970s, the world has come together to focus efforts on local, national and global scales to start a conversation and take care of the earth. This year’s theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution”, calls for us to focus on reducing our reliance on plastics in everyday life.
On May 28, the European Commission released a proposal for a directive to reduce marine plastic litter by decreasing the amount of plastic items that end up as marine waste. The proposal targets single-use plastic products and places bans on items like plastic straws, cutlery, drink stirrers, cotton buds and balloon sticks. Overall, the Commission states that the directive would cover 70 percent of litter found on European beaches.
The Commission clarifies that these products will not disappear, but that they will be made with more sustainable materials. Also included in the proposal are required extended producer responsibility schemes and awareness-raising efforts for single-use plastic items not restricted under the new measure – such as balloons, food and beverage containers, wet wipes and lightweight plastic carrier bags. There would be new standardized labeling requirements for certain products, including directions on how to dispose of waste (as well as disposal means to avoid, such as flushing wet wipes) and negative environmental impacts associated with products.
This is in line with the World Environment Day 2018 theme Beat Plastic Pollution, which emphasizes that “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” Single-use plastics are not designed for reuse, and they are not cost effective to recycle. They also often end up in our oceans, which has been prompting countries all over the world to propose bans on plastic products associated with microplastic pollution.
For example, the Peruvian Congress just introduced a bill on May 24. PL 2921/2017-CR would prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic items like lightweight plastic bags, food containers, plate and cutlery. A similar bill was introduced in Brazil on May 28, the same day as the European Commission’s proposal release. PLS 263/2018 would prohibit certain products that often endanger marine wildlife, including personal care products that contain microbeads and non-biodegradable food service ware.
This year’s World Environment Day host country is India, and today India will be carrying out plastic cleaning drives of its public spaces and ecosystems, including beaches, national parks and riverbanks.
India’s role in global sustainability has developed rapidly, especially in the wake of China’s National Sword policy. The Environmental Department of Maharashtra, for instance, enacted a prohibition of single-use, disposable plastic and polystyrene products on March 23. The notification made Maharashtra the 18th Indian state to ban the use of certain plastic items and establish the responsibilities of producers and the governing body.
Industry leaders also expect that more scrap materials will travel to India in the wake of Vietnam’s recently announced import bans at its Tan Cang-Cai Mep Terminal from June 25 to October 15.
Everyone can play a part in World Environment Day this year, as UN Environment has partnered with Litterati, a data science company. Together they created the Litterati app, which allows users to “identify, map and show the collected litter” with photographs taken with a smartphone. The app tracks areas where litter most commonly appears, and also calculates the most common brands and plastic products found. Litterati is available to download on Android and iOS devices and encourages users to “snap, tag, & dispose.”
For more information about World Environment Day, visit http://worldenvironmentday.global/en.