Over 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.1 By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight if current pollution trends continue.2 Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate, with an estimated 18.7 million acres (7.6 million hectares) of forest lost annually. That is equivalent to 27 soccer fields' worth of trees being destroyed every minute.3 Humans unknowingly consume microplastics through food, water, and air. It is estimated that the average person consumes around 5 grams of plastic per week, equivalent to a credit card's weight.4
We celebrate World Environment Day, June 5th each year, as a global reminder of the importance of protecting and preserving our planet. However, with statistics like the above, it is hard to imagine that we are doing enough.
Our planet is in a state of crisis. As we face challenges such as climate change, deforestation, and pollution, it is crucial to recognize that sustainability is not a mere option but an imperative for the survival of our environment, ecosystems, and ultimately, ourselves.
While developed Western economies have been a major contributor to the plastic apocalypse in the past, the east has also recently joined the club of major plastic polluters. India in 2016 achieved the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s largest plastic waste generators at 26.3 million tons per year. And to add to that we are also the second largest ocean plastic waste polluter in the world.
The government of India has taken notice of the situation and has passed laws to ban the manufacture, sale and use of identified single-use plastic items like plates, cups, straws, trays, and polystyrene from Jul 1, 2022. However, in the face of mounting environmental issues, it has become increasingly clear that the responsibility for sustainability extends beyond governments and corporations. Some of the most credible efforts by governments and civil society face a headwind in execution driven by a lack of consumer awareness, affordability and availability of eco-friendly products.
India today is a $3.5 trillion economy and we are fast moving towards being a $10 trillion economy. Indian consumers, armed with their purchasing power and choices, have a critical role to play in driving sustainable practices.
Steps that “we the people” (consumers) can take are very simple to contribute towards protecting our environment:
1. Know the reality, recycling isn’t the solution cutting down on plastic consumption is. Despite the availability of recycling facilities, global plastic recycling rates remain dismally low. Only 9 per cent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, while 79 per cent accumulates in landfills or the natural environment like rivers and oceans.
2. Be aware, everything that glitters is not gold and every package that says eco-friendly may not be either. According to a study conducted by TerraChoice, 98 per cent of "green" products on the market engage in some form of greenwashing, misleading consumers about their environmental benefits. Therefore, check the package and see if the products are certified by leading agencies of the world like TUV, BPI, FSC and CPCB.
3. Consume responsibly, there are many eco-friendly alternative products available in the marketplace, so take a few moments to explore them. Almost EVERY single-use plastic or tree-based product has an eco-friendly alternative. The onus is on us to move towards a sustainable lifestyle.
As we commemorate World Environment Day, let us remember that sustainability is not an option; it is a necessity for our planet's survival. To achieve sustainability, we must become responsible environmental stewards. It starts with making conscious choices in our daily lives, from adopting eco-friendly practices, such as composting, to conserving water, and avoiding single use plastic products to contribute to a cleaner and healthier planet.
Remember - each one of us has a role to play in creating a sustainable future. By embracing sustainability in our daily lives, supporting sustainable businesses, advocating for environmental policies, and educating ourselves and others, we can make a profound difference. Together, let us commit to being responsible stewards of the Earth, ensuring a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable world for generations.