Planet plastic or not

WORLD Earth Day is a global event celebrated on April 22 to show support for environmental protection. The origin of the day can be traced back to 1970.

The overall objective is to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy, resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Earth Day is observed in more than 190 countries and the theme for 2018 is "End plastic pollution".

Our planet is in serious danger of being destroyed and it is becoming more and more uninhabitable. Plastic waste is everywhere, especially plastic bags and styrofoam food packets.

The waste is strewn on streets, parks, beaches, drains, rivers and the sea. It is dirty and unsightly, and has serious repercussions on the environment as none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable.

As Dr Roland Gayer, an industrial ecologist from the University of California in Santa Barbara told BBC news, "we are heading towards planet plastic".

An oceanographer, Dr Erik Van Sebille from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who tracked plastics in the seas, has this to say. "We are facing a tsunami of plastic waste" and "the global waste industry needs to get its act together and make sure the ever-increasing amount of plastic wastes generated do not end up in the environment".

There is fear that by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans.

Plastic is a useful material because it is cheap, convenient and versatile. Its adaptability and durability is unmatched by most man-made materials. That is why it is used to make many things.

As the world population tripled in the last 60 years, there has been more damaging impact on the environment. Making things worse, most plastic is for one-time use only.

In our everyday life, we use too much plastic. For example, when ordering a drink in a coffee shop, you are given a straw even if you are not going to use one. When ordering food to take home, outlets automatically include plastic utensils, which may go unused because many consumers use their own utensils at home. Thus the unused straws and plastic utensils go into the trash.

We should raise public awareness about pollution and its adverse health effects. There is a need to keep teaching Malaysians about the 5R's – reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose and refuse - to curb plastic usage.

A robust waste reduction and recycling effort requires laws, systems and strict enforcement of rules.

France has passed a new law which will come into effect in 2020 to ensure all plastic cups, plates and cutlery is composted and made of biologically sourced materials. This law is part of its Energy Transition for Green Growth, to tackle climate change.

Ecologists are in favour of the ban, but others argue that it violates European Union rules on free movement of goods. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be, but this is the kind of discussion we should be having.

Malaysians will soon vote. The election campaigns are well under way and fliers and political ads are ubiquitous. These fliers are often made from plastic.

Next month, as I watch the election results with the rest of Malaysians, I will also be watching how the country handles the disposal of plastic waste in the election aftermath. Malaysians should and do care about who governs the country. We should also care about our daily use of waste materials and their disposal, to ensure a clean and healthy environment to live in.

The Earth is the only known habitable planet and every one of us has the responsibility to preserve it for our future generations. We need to do our part for the environment even if our contributions have little impact on the overall condition of the Earth. At the very least, adopting the 5R's as a way of life will help bring about a better and more pleasant environment in our backyard and cities.

Every day should be Earth Day, not just April 22.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: