By Dr. Win Win Mar
World Environment Day (WED) is a global event and occurs on 5th June every year, encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. WED has been raising awareness, supporting action, and driving change in environmental challenges. The Day was rooted from the United Nations Stockholm Conference on human environment which was held from 5-16 June in 1972. The United Nations General Assembly designated June 5, the opening day of this conference as World Environment Day. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was also established. Two years later after WED had been established, the first World Environmental Day was hosted by Spokane, United States in 1974 under the theme “Only One Earth”. Initially, it has been a flagship campaign to raise awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, global warming, and human overpopulation to wildlife crime. Nowadays, WED has become a global platform where NGOs, communities, governments, major corporations, and celebrities from over 197 countries annually participate in it. Myanmar has been celebrating the World Environment Day since 1994.
World Environment Day (WED) is hosted every year by a different city with a different theme. “Connecting People to Nature” was the theme for 2017 WED which was held in Ottawa, Canada. On 19 February 2018, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced that the theme for the 2018 World Environment Day will be “Beat Plastic Pollution”. The global host of 2018 World Environment Day (WED) is India. The country also hosted the 2011 WED as its first time global event. The 2018 WED worldwide event will be celebrated in New Delhi, India with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”. The theme aims at the world to come together to combat single-use plastic pollution. It urges governments, industry, communities and individuals to explore sustainable alternatives and to urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting oceans, damaging marine life and threatening health. These actions will particularly support progress not only on the Sustainable Development Goal target SDG 14.1 and also SDG 12.4. SDG14.1 aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, including marine debris and nutrient pollution through land-based activities. SDG12.4 targets focused on reducing waste generation and encouraging sustainable practices.
The world plastic production is increasing and 10% of all of the waste we generate is coming from plastic. One third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater. 50% of the plastic is single-use or disposable in which plastic water bottles and plastic bag are quite common. Worldwide annual use of plastic bags is 500 billion and at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans which is equivalent of a full garbage truck every minutes. It is also destroying our beaches and oceans. Weathering degradation of plastics on the beaches results in their surface embrittlement and microcracking, yielding microparticles (size of smaller than 5 mm in diameter) and these break down further into nanoparticles (less than 0.1 µm in diameter size). These very fine particles are dispersed into water by wind or wave action. Since the mass production of plastics began in the 1940s, microplastic contamination of the marine environment has been a growing problem. Unlike inorganic fines present in sea water, micro- and nano- plastics particulates absorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by partition. The POPs-laden particles are potentially ingestible by marine organisms. It is important to better understand the impact of microplastics in the ocean food chain.
Very little of the plastic we discard every day is recycled or incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities. Much of it ends up in landfills, where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaching potentially toxic substances into the soil and water. The impact of terrestrial microplastic pollution in soils, sediments and freshwater could have a long-term negative effect on such ecosystems. Sewage sludge disposal to the fields as fertilizers affects the health and functions of soil. Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into ground water or surrounding water sources, and also the ecosystem. Consequently, this can cause a range of potentially toxic effects on the species that drink water. According to the research, the terrestrial microplastic pollution is about four to 23 times higher than marine microplastic pollution, depending on the environment.
According to UNEP, the UK, Israel, India and some other countries have taken initiatives to reduce plastic pollution. The UK launched its action with 5 steps to tackle plastic pollution. The UK”s recent actions include banning on plastic beads, phasing out the use of non-biodegradable drinking plastic straws in several chain restaurants, banning on straws and on the sale and manufacture of plastic cotton buds, eliminating plastic packaging in several supermarket chains and finally, phasing out the use of disposable plastic at royal estates and introducing biodegradable takeaway containers in Buckingham Palace. As Israel has introduced a law that requires supermarkets to charge customers a minimum of USD 0.03 per plastic bag, it achieved to reduce the use of plastic bags by 80 % in less than one year. Israel”s supermarkets require to display the cost of the bags on the customers” bills. The funds generated from bags sales use to support air pollution reduction projects, support manufacturers to adjust their operations and comply with legislation, and raise awareness about the law. India has also planned to implement a ban on non-reusable plastics, including single-use plastic bags, disposable containers and utensils, banners and flex bags.
On October 2009, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), Myanmar officially announced to ban businesses from manufacturing, importing, trading or distributing high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bags for environmental reasons. Two years after Mandalay city”s achievement to prohibit polyethylene bags, the authorities in Yangon also attempted not to allow the production, storage and sales of non-biodegradable waste such as polyethylene bags and ropes in April 22, 2011. Due to the government”s weak enforcement for sustainable banning, the plastic culture still remains and returns popularity nationwide. Therefore, Myanmar had conducted a numbers of important initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of saving the world from plastic pollution and man-made waste as one of its national environmental priorities. For instance, a community of food and beverage services in Yangon launched a campaign called “Straws Suck” aimed no longer to serve their customers single-use plastic straws, creating a great interest among others to do so. The activity has been started since 2017 and a group of restaurants and bars such as Nourish café, Gekko Restaurant, Parami Pizza, 50th Street Cafe Restaurant Bar, Locale cafe, Spouts Salad, Union Bar and Grill, the Strand Hotel, Savoy Hotel, Rose Garden Hotel and etc., have been actively participating in this event. Most of them are offering reusable and biodegradable straws as alternative solutions. Currently, in order to highlight the impact of plastic waste on rivers and oceans, an art studio and gallery Wired 39 is collaborating with a group called “Beat Plastic Pollution in Myanmar” for an art installation by collecting plastic bags and bottles. This installation is intended for World Environment Day, aiming at public awareness raising about the problems with using single-use plastic products.
Myanmar has been in progress of formulating the National Waste Management Strategy and Action Plan (2017-2030) with “Sustainable, Green, Clean and Healthy Environment towards a Brighter Future for Myanmar” as its vision. The Environmental Conservation Department (ECD) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) has been conducting this formulation process in cooperation with other relevant local and international stakeholders for sustainable waste managements, including all kinds of solid and liquid wastes- hazardous waste, electronic waste, plastic waste, industrial waste, etc. From the implementation of the National Waste Management Strategy and Action Plan (2017-2030), the country expects to reach the following six strategic goals;
* Goal A: Extending Sound Waste Collection and Eliminate Uncontrolled Disposal and Open Burning
* Goal B: Extending Sustainable and Environmentally Sound Management of Industrial and Other Hazardous Waste
* Goal C: Reduce Waste through 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle)
* Goal D: Ensure Sustainable Finance Mechanisms
* Goal E: Awareness Raising, Advocacy and Capacity Building
* Goal F: Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement
Some key targets and propose activities to be implemented are specified in this the National Waste Management Strategy and Action Plan for Myanmar. People who are involving the formulation and implementation work are making strong effort to achieve the abovementioned outputs.
In order to raise awareness of people on plastic pollution and environmental conservation and to get people more practices, the Yangon Region Government is recently taking steps to conduct waste management practices in cooperation with international organizations and stakeholders for a community awareness campaign and practices. According to the Yangon Region Chief Minister, the plastic waste management services for recycle, recovery and reuse are being implemented in Yangon city. He also mentioned the huge negative impact of plastic waste on the environment and important needs of substitute things for the people. Finally, he pointed out the sense of taking responsibilities of all citizens to keep our environment clean and green.
The plastic solid waste generated from human activities are threatening to air, soil and water quality leading to serious health problems of the public. Therefore, individuals must preserve and protect our natural environment as our national responsibility. As a saying goes “Many hands make light work”, let”s get together to fight against the plastic pollution and save our environment.
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By Dr. Win Win Mar