Plastic pollution, a danger to human health, the ecosystem
Over the years, the use of plastic has become commonplace in human life.
From manufacturing to storage to cooking and other miscellaneous areas, plastics are used in one way or another.
Plastics are found in educational materials, kitchen utensils, on the International Space Station, in medical equipment, and indeed in every job and livelihood on earth.
However, its single-use convenience has posed challenges to the ecosystem, which is now affecting mankind.
According to the United Nations (UN), decades of overuse and an increase in single-use, short-lived plastics have led to a global environmental catastrophe.
“Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year and gyres, or so-called ‘plastic islands’, are blooming.
“While most plastics should remain intact for decades or centuries after use, those that erode end up as microplastics, eaten by fish and other marine animals, quickly making their way up the global food chain. .”
It is estimated that 1,000,000 plastic bottles are purchased every minute and 500,000,000,000 plastic bags are used every year.
Around 13,000,000 tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year and 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic each year.
Scientists say it takes 100 to 500 years or more for plastic to degrade in the environment and even after that there are particles of it, most of which can be harmful.
In addition, 90% of bottled water contains plastic particles, and 83% of tap water also contains plastic particles.
Recognizing the great danger they portend, the United Nations General Assembly made the issue of plastic pollution a priority during the 73rd session.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd session, assures that the UN, in collaboration with Member States, UN agencies, civil society groups and the private sector, will support efforts that will help reduce consumption of plastic, raise awareness and support efforts to find global, regional and local solutions.
A major private sector that has remained committed to the fight against plastic pollution is Nestlé, which recognizes that packaging helps protect food and drink, ensures product quality and safety, communicates nutritional information and prevents food waste. .
However, according to her, these essential requirements must not come at the expense of the planet and that is why they are continually developing more sustainable packaging and are committed to reducing packaging waste.
During a Nestlé Media virtual training for journalists on Thursday, environmental sustainability professional Dr Eugene Itua highlighted the growing dangers of plastic pollution and the need to reduce single-use plastic.
Itua, in a lecture on the theme: “Environmental Stewardship: Exploring the Impact of Plastic Pollution”, points out that the threat of plastic pollution in the world is overwhelming.
“Plastic is an incredibly useful material but made from toxic compounds known to harm the environment and human health.
“Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects and particles in the Earth’s environment that causes great complexities for all species on the planet.
“Plastic pollution occurs when plastics collect in an area and begin to negatively impact the natural environment, creating problems for plants, wildlife and humans.”
It points out that each year, eight million tons of plastic waste leaks into the oceans of coastal countries, which is equivalent to placing five trash bags full of waste on every foot of coastline around the world, while highlighting the consequences of the prevalence of plastic pollution on the environment. and above all, on human health.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) published research in 2018 that found the presence of microplastics in 50% of bottled water.
“The test revealed that only 17 bottles were plastic-free out of 259 examined.
“The average human being consumes around 70,000 microplastics per year and plastic pollution has doubled in the last 50 years.
“Since the 1950s, approximately 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced globally and one million plastic bottles are purchased globally every minute.
“Plastic production has increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015, and production is expected to double by 2050.
“It takes around 400 to 600 years for plastic to break down, hence the importance of reducing global plastic pollution,” Itua says.
It goes further by specifically highlighting the harmful effects of plastic pollution, while ranking Nigeria as the second largest plastic importer in Africa.
“Exposure to plastic pollution can lead to various adverse effects on human health. It can cause choking in toddlers and serious health issues like cancers, birth defects and impaired immunity.
“There have been links between plastic pollution and the growing health problems of the current generation.
“Common complications such as human cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, cancer, diabetes, chronic inflammation and other immune diseases are also attributed to plastic pollution,” he says.
According to Itua, Nigeria is one of the biggest consumers of plastics in Africa, with its plastic production expected to increase.
“Between 1996 and 2017, approximately 20 million tonnes of primary plastics and products were imported into the country, making Nigeria the second largest importer of plastics in Africa, which accounts for 17% of total plastic consumption on the continent.
“That’s why it has become relevant to end single-use plastic, encourage sorting and recycling activities, as well as educate people about the dangers of plastic pollution,” Itua says.
Victoria Uwadoka, Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Nestlé Nigeria, says there is a need to raise awareness about the role everyone should play in protecting against plastic pollution.
“I will advise Nigerians to be careful how they dispose of plastics and waste so that they do not end up being a problem for society in the near future.
“We should refrain from throwing waste from our cars and other vehicles, into drainage systems and onto the road.
“We should all be aware of the impact that improper disposal of plastics and other waste can have on the environment,” she says.
Uwadoka advises on the need to collect and separate waste for recycling instead of being disposed of indiscriminately.
According to her, by doing so, “we will have a cleaner environment, free from malaria and water-borne diseases.
“Malaria is encouraged when our plastics are gathered in one place and collect water, creating an environment conducive to the breeding of malaria causative agents.
“So keeping our environment clean is for our own good and I urge all of us to come together and play a part in making sure we have a cleaner environment,” she says.
Uwadoka points out that “the government has already put laws in place to ensure our environment stays clean.”
She advises Nigerians not to wait for these laws to be enforced before doing what needs to be done to have a better and healthier environment for all.
In summary, plastic waste and pollution have been a major environmental and health issue. Its effects on marine organisms, humans and the environment in general are of public concern and call for an urgent need to save them.
Addressing the multifaceted problem of plastic pollution requires a holistic view and a well-orchestrated effort to control and monitor the production, use and disposal of plastics.
If it is about specific actions, collective action is vital; consumers, businesses and individuals are also required to play their part in ensuring environmental and health safety.
Indeed, reducing exposure to toxic substances from plastic waste will increase the chances of having a clean environment and a healthy society.
By Mercy Omoike and Vivian Ihechu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)