It’s the planet vs plastic, and we all have our part to play in saving the earth  

“The world is facing a plastics crisis. Plastic pollution is found all around the globe. Plastics negatively affect people and the environment at each stage of their lifecycle, including biodiversity, climate change, human health and human rights.”- Geneva Environment Network 

Earlier this year, the phrase “Flowers are blooming in Antarctica” gained some form of virality on the clock app. The phrase, calling on the sensibilities of the general public, implied a call to action for multiple societal issues, including climate change, societal and economic disparities and the incessant greed of capitalist corporations who do nothing but contribute to a significant amount of the earth’s problems through improper waste disposal and careless production processes that only jeopardise people’s wellbeings.

Woven into our ideologies and identities is the idea that we cannot contest what is, but the phrase “Flowers are blooming in Antarctica” drives us to have conversations about what needs to change. Literally speaking, the phrase directly recognises the abrupt change in the climate situation, which we are currently talking about due to multiple contributing factors. One of these factors is the epidemic of single-use plastics.

Earth’s greatest enemy

Image Credit: Messina via Pexels

Plastic use, which began in 1907, quickly gained popularity due to its versatility and ability to be molded, stretched, and modified into any preferred shape or style to fit consumers’ desires. However, over time and through research, it was found that plastics have a very slow decomposition rate spanning 20 to 500 years. Because they were created with little attention to their longevity, the chemical composition of formaldehyde and other synthetic materials can be found in every corner of the earth.

Microplastics are everywhere, from the ground to the sea and even in the air, which is dangerous. According to various studies, the total weight of plastic in the ocean currently weighs more than the total amount of fish in the sea, and most of the plastic is in the fish. Even recently, a study showed that microplastics have been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

In all this, the real issue is not even the microplastics we constantly consume. The prevailing issue is the reproductive harm caused by the chemicals used to make plastic products (aka monomers).

The dangers of plastic

Image credit: Mumtahina Tanni via Pexels

Monomers are toxic chemicals that make plastic much more durable and mouldable. However, their toxicity has been proven to cause reproductive and overall health issues in humans and animals. According to The Human Journey, manufacturers use Phthalates, bisphenol-A (BPA), Dioxins, and Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to improve the durability of plastics. Still, these chemicals have emerged as leading causes of cancer, birth defects, and many other health issues.

  • Phthalates, chemicals that make plastics more flexible, are common in many everyday products and are suspected of harming human health, especially in children. These chemicals can enter the body and have links to reduced fertility, birth defects, and brain development issues. Although some regulations limit their use, phthalates are still incredibly widespread and detectable in almost everyone.
  • BPA, a chemical used to strengthen plastics, raised alarms when it started leaching from baby bottles. While many countries have banned BPA in these products, manufacturers still use it in food can linings, and it can even be found in trace amounts in the air. Experts disagree on the risks—some argue that our bodies quickly eliminate BPA, making general exposure safe. However, others express concerns about higher BPA levels in young children and the potential effects of long-term, low-dose exposure that we don’t fully understand yet.
  • Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, is a tough and durable material often used in things like pipes and building materials. However, it’s a major health and environmental hazard. Not only is PVC nearly impossible to recycle, but it also releases dangerous dioxins when heated or burned. These dioxins can stay in the human body for years, causing health issues, particularly in children. Exposure can lead to birth defects, developmental delays, and behavioural problems. The long-term effects of even minimal exposure to PVC dioxins are still unknown, but they pose significant risks. This is especially troubling, considering that these dioxins can be found in breast milk.

With knowledge of these toxins, populated areas with massive plastic use like Indonesia, various areas in Southeast Asia and multiple low-income countries all over the world are at risk of heavily consuming plastic in multiple forms, including seafood, water and air. Take Lagos state, for example, with over 16 million residents, which produces an estimated 2,250 tonnes of plastic waste per day and 67000 tonnes per month. This leaves Lagosians at the mercy of indirect plastic consumption with no sustainable and effective way to reduce plastic waste aside from the recent ban on single-use plastics.

Now more than ever, with more awareness on the subject of plastic damage to humans and the environment, the relevance of communities that champion recycling is at an all-time high.

Communities Inspiring Plastic Recycling

When we come together as a community to find solutions to problems, we can achieve success as a collective. As we know, not just one person is responsible for plastic use in the environment; we all are. Therefore, coming together to fix these issues is the best way to start the war against plastic. To help you find a community, we have created a short list of organisations that function as a community championing environmental development and plastic recycling.

Susty vibes

SustyVibes - Making Sustainablility Actionable For Young People

This community specifically focuses on young people’s efforts to employ sustainable practices. Susty Vibes aims to make sustainability a fun practice for young people while educating people and taking sustainable actions to heal the earth. Through their Susty Schools Program, they try to teach sustainability to younger generations on every level through interactive learning, Experiential learning, a localised curriculum and many more. Educating 5000+ students, Susty Vibes is building from the ground up.

Their mission is “to build a platform for young people to believe in their abilities to transform our world. Guided by the principles of gender equality and environmental justice, we strive to co-create a sustainable future within a thriving planet.”

See more here

Chanja Datti

Chanja Datti Recycling (@ChanjaDattiLtd) / X

Chanja Datti, located in Abuja, champions recycling and commits to “transforming waste into value!” With an increasing demand to rid our environment of non-biodegradable waste materials, they primarily focus on Plastic (PET bottles, pure water sachets, nylon bags, etc.) and other waste streams such as Aluminium cans, Paper (old newspapers, old textbooks, corrugated cardboard, cartons, etc.), Glass bottles, and tyres.” Because they are primarily in Nothern, Nigeria, Chanja Datti is partnered with the Coca-Cola Company and WASTE Nigeria for the Women Recyclers Empowerment Initiative (WREI) to empower local women with retail business initiatives funded by their recycling cooperative clusters.

See more here

F.A.B.E Nigeria Foundation

The foundation aims to “promote and improve environmental sustainability, consciousness, and attitudinal change by engaging young people, particularly women, in the identification, exploration, and facilitation of sustainable eco-solutions to the problems caused by the impacts of climate change and pollution, affecting the health and environment of biodiversity in Nigeria and Africa through experiential advocacy, education, and creative climate-smart innovations.”

They run the Tidy Nigeria Initiative, which focuses on educating and informing communities about the impact of climate change. Tidy Nigeria also has a skill acquisition program where they teach skills in upcycling, recycling, gardening, tailoring, and many more, which would be helpful in repurposing waste instead of creating more landfills.

See more here

“While plastic recycling is great, it is not a permanent solution. We need to look out for biodegradable products that can be used instead of plastic, such as bamboo.” -Hope Lekwa (Head of Research and Communications at Susty Vibes)

We can all heal the earth

Through our collective effort and determination to heal the earth, there are many things we can all do to reduce plastic waste worldwide:

  • Use plastic, particularly single-use plastic, only when necessary.
  • Create plastic that is actually safe for interaction with food.
  • Make plastic disposal safe and effective.
  • Remove as much plastic as we can from the environment.
  • Create new, fully biodegradable products.
  • Create a recycling system that converts old plastic into new material.

The sad part is that we have become entirely reliant on plastic. In fact, one would say it is impossible to go a day without coming into contact with some form of plastic. This is why we must all incorporate recycling into our daily lives. By recycling plastics, we can use the already available plastic without needing to create more, which would fill the earth and, in the long run, damage and reduce the quality of life.

So, join a recycling community, avoid single-use plastics, and always reduce, reuse, and recycle the plastic around you. It is time we took accountability for the earth. This is our home, and we can fix it! Happy World Earth Day!!


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