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Beat Plastic Pollution: on Environment Day, these photos highlight the scars we have left on our planet

Shruti Kedia
5th Jun 2018
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Beat Plastic Pollution, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call to action for the world to come together to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

Just after dawn in Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai, trash pickers looking for plastics begin their daily rounds at a dump, joined by a flock of birds. In the distance, garbage trucks rolling in from the megacity traverse a garbage valley. The woman carrying the red cloth lives at the landfill. Image credit: Randy Olson, National Geographic

Time and again, environmentalists have cried hoarse about climate change, pollution and the reality that the world, as we know it, might cease to end. Yet, the repeated calls to rectify our actions, reduce the carbon footprint, and switch to an alternative eco-friendly lifestyle have brought little change.

Shockingly, researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s against the present population of 7.62 billion. About 60 percent of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.

It is a reality that plastics today have become an integral part of our lives. The day starts with a plastic toothbrush, goes on to driving on plastic-made roads, and often ends on a pillow with components of plastic.

To shun plastic completely is perhaps a very difficult task, especially in areas such as medical treatment and food preservation.

Although only 9 percent of plastics has been recycled globally till date, many governments are now banning the use of single-use plastics or disposable plastics. Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. The list includes items such as plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging.

Image Credit: UN Environment

Traditional alternatives such as metal and glass are now being utilised, and new materials that are better for the environment and have the potential to help us end our plastic addiction have entered the market. All these changes can be attributed to growing awareness, which highlights the plight of the planet in real time due to humans' abuse of resources.

To combat the growing menace, India, on the occasion of World Environment Day 2018, is inviting every individual to consider how we can make changes in our daily lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife – and our own health.

We feature just a few of the photographs that have made a strong impact; photos that have forced people to rethink their duty towards the sustenance of our environment/planet.

After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Noorjahan spreads them out to dry, turning them regularly— while also tending to her son, Momo. The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the US,  it’s less than 10 percent. Image credit: Randy Olson, National Geographic

 

To ride currents, seahorses clutch drifting seagrass or other natural debris. In the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, this seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton swab—“a photo I wish didn’t exist”,  says photographer Justin Hofman. Image credit: Justin Hofman, National Geographic

 

Plastic pollution on an ice floe in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Image credit: Conor McDonnell, The Guardian

 

In Life magazine in 1955, an American family celebrates the dawn of “Throwaway Living”, thanks in part to disposable plastics. Single-use plastics have brought great convenience to people around the world, but they also make up a big part of the plastic waste that’s now choking our oceans. Image credit: Peter Stockpile, Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Recology’s largest San Francisco recycling plant handles 500 to 600 tonnes of plastic daily. One of the few plants in the US that accepts shopping bags, it has more than doubled the tonnage it recycles in the past 20 years. The conveyor belt is carrying mixed plastic to an optical sorter. Image credit: Randy Olson, National Geographic

 

Under a bridge on a branch of the Buriganga River in Bangladesh, a family removes labels from plastic bottles, sorting green from clear ones to sell to a scrap dealer. Waste pickers here average around $100 a month. Image credit: Randy Olson, National Geographic

 

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