Ditch the plastics, save the planet

By Adeela Akmal
Tue, 04, 24

On the occasion of Earth Day, celebrated annually on 22nd April, You! takes a closer look at the 2024 theme, Planet versus Plastics…

Ditch the plastics, save the planet

Every day, consciously or unconsciously, we are producing more waste than we can absorb or dispose of. There is so much garbage lying around not just in landfills, but in our homes, roads and pretty much everywhere around us. In light of Earth Day, which is celebrated every year on 22nd April, we delve into the magnitude of one of the biggest problems the planet faces as the environment deteriorates at an alarming pace. This year, the theme for the day is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’, with a goal of reducing plastic consumption by 60 per cent by 2040 - a pressing matter that we need to face head-on. The theme calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion.

What do the numbers say?

Living in a capitalist and consumer capitalism, the main challenge that we collectively face is an irresponsible and ill behavioural lifestyle, which ignores the long-term consequences of plastic pollution. In the report published on February 2024, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that unless urgent measures were taken to control waste generation, it will surge by 2050 causing billions of dollars of damage through biodiversity loss, climate change and deadly pollution.

The world produces a massive 2.12 billion tonnes of waste. And to estimate, we need at least two more Earths to dispose and absorb all the waste that has been produced so far.

Moreover, research found that Pakistan alone produces 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) reveals that 250 million tonnes of that garbage consists of plastic bottles, pet bottles and food scraps which end up in landfills, unmanaged dumps or strewn about land and water bodies in the country, damaging the environment and people’s health.

To understand the magnitude of the numbers, if this much waste was collectively put together, it would reach as high as 16500 metres – that is the height of two K2 mountains.

The harrowing detail of the pollution is that it is slowly seeping into our daily lives where it shouldn’t exist in the first place. Scientists have found that plastics continuously fragment in the environment, shredding over time into fibres even smaller than a strand of human hair - particles so small they easily become airborne, as per National Geographic.

An Amsterdam University professor expressed his concerns over a 2022 research which indicated the presence of tiny plastic particles in living humans. He stated that we should be “concerned” over the matter as “plastics should not be in your blood.”

A whopping 220 million tonnes of plastic waste are set to be generated in 2024, a new study has shown, published by Down to Earth (DTE), organisation. There has been a steady rise in plastic waste of nearly 10 per cent (7.11 per cent) since 2021. The global average plastic waste per person this year will rise to 28 kilograms.

Ditch the plastics, save the planet

What’s causing all of this mess?

“The word environment means what surrounds you. Now plastics do more than surround us; we have become the product itself - it flows through our blood stream, adheres to our internal organs, and carries with it heavy metals known to cause cancer and disease. Now this once-thought amazing and useful product has become something else, and our health and that of all other living creatures hangs in the balance,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of EARTHDAY.ORG.

“Just 12 countries are responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s mismanaged plastic waste, the top five being China, USA, India, Brazil, and Mexico,” highlighted the Plastic Overshoot Day report released on April 11, 2024 by Swiss non-profit EA Earth Action.

“Plastic pollution most often disproportionately burdens low- and middle-income countries, with the bulk of the world’s pollution either imported to or washing up on their shores,” pointed out Adil Najam, President, WWF International.

While the developed nations may be the biggest contributors to the environment, but somewhere along the lines, many developing states have been adding to those numbers as well.

For instance, major reason why China is the biggest polluter and producing the most carbon emissions is because most of the global production takes place there.

Due to cheap labour costs, the world’s industries look at China to produce their products rather in their own countries, playing a massive role in environmental pollution and global warming.

Moreover, with consumerism plaguing the life of an average man, imports from these countries add to the pollution – from the wasteful packaging to the carbon emissions from the transport.

Apart from single-use plastics, water bottles, shoppers, vegetable wraps, there is a lot of plastic coming from big industries. For instance, Fashion industry in particular has been the biggest contributor to waste. The production of clothing involves extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, and transportation. Each of these stages uses significant amounts of resources and energy, each contributing to environmental degradation and climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases.

Once the clothes are no longer trendy, they are discarded. Due to the way the fast fashion business model works, the products are not often designed with longevity in mind. With fast fashion, the frequency of the clothing that ends up being discarded is dramatically increased and often ends up in landfills or is incinerated, causing further environmental damage.

The organisation, COMMONS Earth, found that the planet has enough clothing to dress the next six generations. It stated that fast fashion “declines its quality” to make up for mass production, leading to disposable trends and environmental strain.

Ditch the plastics, save the planet

What are the world leaders doing?

Many of these things can be combatted through political measure and legislative actions in every country, which could easily put an end the easily avoidable pollution. The UN is currently in talks to formulate a treaty to end plastic pollution with ambitious and legally-binding global rules.

While countries have shown their enthusiasm for this step, governments have faced continued push back from a small group of states with more of an interest in protecting profit.

The treaty will be prioritising global bans on the most harmful and avoidable single-use plastics; binding, global requirements on product design and performance to ensure reduction, reuse and safe recycling for all plastic products; and to underpin it all, a robust financial package.

Najam noted that just because richer countries are dumping their waste in developing countries “doesn’t mean they are protected from the devastation plastic waste can wreak on communities.”

He added, “This universal suffering is the reason why public surveys show almost unanimous support for a global treaty with common legally-binding rules. The vast majority of people worldwide are sick and tired of voluntary half measures. It’s time our leaders put into action what their constituents have been calling for.”

What can we do?

Now, when we are quoted staggering numbers and alarming statistics, one does begin to feel overwhelmed knowing that there is a mammoth responsibility lying on our shoulders, leading masses to resort to the ostrich effect.

While there is a group of climate doomist who believe that there is nothing to be done about the situation, there are climate solutions that exist and do bring a significant change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that having the right policies, infrastructure and technology can result in a 40-70 per cent reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. The research stated that climate start-ups and climate tech can be the answer to many of our pressing matters. Climate tech currently only makes up for 3 per cent of all the start-up funding and we need more investment in the field and a community effort to collectively make climate-friendly living more accessible. As an individual, the most important thing that they can do is be a little less of an individual and more of a community working towards a mutual goal.

A political conviction is needed in this time to be proactive about decisions taken by your governing body for the environment. It’s imperative that communities are united on this stance, which will put pressure on the leaders over the future plans that they are going to implement.

Little steps towards a sustainable world

There are many ways you can beat the toxic world of consumerism for the sake of your environment.

Ditch the plastics, save the planet

Big corporations and industries benefit off of the money spent by the general public. If the public starts to reject these polluting companies, they would be forced to change their ways. Ditch the beverages brands that are not only producing more waste but also taking over and exploiting natural water resources. Albeit slowly, switch to a more natural alternative which is good for you in the long-run as well.

You can reduce your plastic consumption by simply opting for reusable alternatives or buying products in low-waste packaging, like shampoo bars, body wash refills, or plastic-free natural deodorants. Use washable cotton pads instead of single-use cotton balls, a safety razor instead of disposable ones, and a bamboo toothbrush. Carry your own reusable bags to avoid buying food that comes in excessive plastic packaging. In your kitchens, use stainless steel or cast iron instead of non-stick pans. Ditch the single-use plastic containers and cling wrap. Move to beeswax wraps that you can wash and reuse.

While the fight against climate change and pollution is long and hard, we mustn’t feel powerless. Hope is the biggest catalyst for action and we still have the tools to make a big change.

The writer is a freelance journalist dedicated to gender-based issues and climate change. She can be contacted at