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Earth Day 2024: Planet vs. Plastics

Earth Day 2024 Planet vs. Plastic

Photo: Earthday.org

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April 20, 2024

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Published:

April 20, 2024

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The Earth Day has been celebrated every April 22 since 1970. This year’s theme is Planet vs. Plastics, as a call to raise awareness about the health risks posed by plastic pollution and the damage it inflicts on the environment. Special emphasis is placed on protecting babies, who are the most exposed to the harmful effects of microplastics.

The non-profit organization dedicated to Earth Day, Earthday.org, has set clear goals to reduce plastic production by 60% by 2040. The primary focus is on spreading awareness about the harm that plastics cause to human health, animals, and overall biodiversity.

Annually, 380 million tons of plastics are produced. More plastic has been produced in just the last decade than in the entire 20th century.

A liter of bottled water contains 240,000 nanoplastic fragments

Plastic breaks down into microplastics, particles up to five millimeters in diameter, and nanoplastics, up to one micrometer. They release toxic chemicals that end up in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Nanoplastics can enter the bloodstream, and research has shown their presence in the hearts, lungs, and brains of animals and humans.

For example, it takes six times more water to make a plastic water bottle than the bottle itself contains. Research led by scientists from Columbia University has revealed that on average, a liter of bottled water contains around 240,000 nanoplastic fragments.

Earthday.org also advocates for a complete end to single-use plastic production by 2030.

One of the largest sources of microplastics is fast fashion

One of the largest sources of microplastics is fast fashion. The industry produces over 100 billion clothing items annually. People now buy 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago, and each garment is used for half as long on average.

According to the organization’s data, 85% of clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, with only 1% being recycled.

Furthermore, social inequality and fast fashion are directly intertwined, due to exploitative working conditions, low wages, and the prevalence of child labor.

Lastly, but no less important, the said organization calls for investment in innovative technologies and materials to build a plastic-free future.

Babies vs. Plastics

Babies are the most vulnerable to the health risks posed by microplastics and plastic additives. Even a small dose of microplastics or additives has a greater impact on a baby’s organism than on adults.

Activities like chewing and crawling increase the likelihood of microplastics entering a child’s body. Babies put bottles, toys, and other objects in their mouths. Additionally, microplastics can be found in dust or materials on the floor, which a baby can inhale.

Researchers suggest that microplastics can have an impact on the mental health of babies

The negative impact of microplastics on babies includes potential effects on neurological development, the immune system, and other vital functions, hormonal disruption, and digestive issues such as intestinal irritation and reduced nutrient absorption.

Exposure to microplastics can harm babies’ reproductive health later in life, including potential fertility issues and reproductive organ problems.

Some researchers suggest microplastics affect babies’ mental health, indicating a possible link to conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.

Even more concerning is that babies are exposed to microplastics and related chemical additives even before birth. Recent studies have found microplastics inside the placenta and in breast milk.

Is there a solution

Addressing the plastic pollution challenge implies a comprehensive approach at various levels of society, from individuals to industry and governments.

On a global scale, the fourth session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee will take place in Ottawa from April 23 to 29, aiming to develop an international legally binding instrument against plastic pollution.

Earthday.org has launched a petition calling on the UN and government organizations to enact a global plastic agreement that would obligate everyone to the same standards and reduce plastic production by at least 60% by 2040.

Demands include the principle of extended producer responsibility, meaning that plastic manufacturers and sellers would be responsible for preventing environmental or health harm and for compensating for it.

Join the Global Cleanup Event

What individuals can do is join the Global Cleanup Event. Earthday.org’s website features a map where you can find events in your area. You can also organize cleanup activities yourself.

In Serbia, an event called Zavrni rukave was held on March 24, organized by the Eko straža environmentalist group. A total of 4,900 people cleaned riverbanks, canals, forests, parks, school and kindergarten yards, green areas within residential blocks, parking lots, and illegal landfills at 304 locations, according to the organizers.

It was the 11th event, and the most garbage was collected to date, 10,700 bags or one hundred tons.

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