Each year on April 22, many people stop to think about the health of the world environment, as as if it were a New Year’s Day for nature, many make resolutions to treat the world around them more responsibly.
The day first celebrated in 1970 is approaching a half-century of existence with a movement that started in the United States and spread around the world. People celebrate the day with environmental action such as natural area cleanups, public demonstrations, tree plantings and, in 2016, the signing of the international Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep climate change in check.
The theme for 2018 is plastic pollution. Experts say a large mass of discarded plastic that has gathered in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles — more than 155 million hectares (600,000 square miles), or twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas.
The patch developed in less than 100 years, as plastics have been in common use only since the 1950s. It is one of several masses of refuse found in the world’s oceans, brought together by weather patterns and water currents. Experts say many types of plastic that do not biodegrade can remain in the environment for up to 2,000 years.
More than 250 corporate signatories joined together to try and deal with plastic pollution in an announcement timed to coincide with the 5th Annual “Our Ocean Conference” in Bali, Indonesia.
Under terms of the agreement, the companies agreed to, among other things, make all of the plastics they produce recyclable by 2025. The signatories, including Coca-Cola, Danone, and Kellogg, also agreed to a 2025 deadline to increase the amount of recycled plastic they use in the production of their various products.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace cautiously welcomed the announcement as “moving in the right direction,” but say the agreement is way too open-ended to have much of an impact.
The facts are that around the world, according to a recent study, a whopping 91 percent of all plastic is never recycled. And all that plastic ends up in landfills, in the ocean, in the food chain and ultimately in us.
Greenpeace also noted that this agreement doesn’t change much because “corporations are not required to set actual targets to reduce the total amount of single-use plastics they are churning out. They can simply continue with business as usual after signing the commitment.”
Business as usual is also how the group Oceana views the agreement. It put out a stronger statement, denouncing the agreement. “None of these companies have committed to stop using plastic, to stop putting plastic into consumer products, or to even offer consumers alternatives.”
Less plastic, more recycling
Most environmental groups are urging signatory companies like Coca-Cola and UniLever to stop the flow of plastics at the source.
“Every company that signed the declaration should commit to a meaningful, time-bound and specific percent-reduction of the amount of plastic it is putting into the market,” Oceana said in a statement. “…and to find alternative ways to package and deliver its products.”
In fact, Greenpeace officials point out that “11 of the largest consumer goods companies’ current plans allow them to increase their use of single-use plastics and none have set clear elimination or reduction targets.”
Despite the best intentions of the agreement, most environmental groups say this won’t do much to slow the amount of plastic building up around the world.
The companies that signed on, however, say this agreement will allow them to “eliminate the plastic items we don’t need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.”
Since its beginning, the annual Our Ocean Conference has worked with private companies and governments around the world to protect 12.4 million square kilometers of ocean with monetary commitments worth more than $18 billion. (VOA)