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Earth Day: Plastic planet

Ruby Russell
April 22, 2018

This Earth Day, activists are calling for an end to plastic pollution. DW has been following the impacts of disposable plastic and efforts to do away with it — by everyone from artists to policymakers.

Platic fish sculpture by Yodogawa Tecnique
Image: Getty Images/Jiji Press

Plastics are everywhere. Made from fossil fuels, consuming energy only to be thrown away, piling up in landfills, clogging our oceans, and contaminating food chains — they somehow sum up everything that's wrong with how we treat our planet.

10 years on: Rwanda’s plastic ban

Which is why this year, Earth Day – which has brought people around the world together every April 22 since 1970, to show their commitment to protecting our the planet — is taking on plastic pollution.

Plastic doesn't biodegrade — it sticks around forever. So it's no surprise so much of the stuff is polluting the environment.

Yet the statistics are shocking: We produce close to 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, and an estimated 8 million tons of that ends up in the sea. Some collects together to form "trash islands," including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — recently estimated to be three times the size of France.

The Earth Day Network is calling on us all to pledge to cut our plastic use, and has a handy calculator to help you work out just how much trash you're contributing to this global problem.

The initiative is building on momentum that has been growing around the world. Ever more of us are trying to cut plastics out of lives, clean up our communities, and demanding that policy-makers and companies take action, too.

The plastic free challenge

This week, the UK announced it would ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds, as campaigners push for the government to go further and ban all single-use non-recyclable plastics.

The Brits have in part been galvanized by the BBC TV series Blue Planet, which explores the wonders of marine life and draws attention to the threats posed to it by pollution. But they're not alone in demanding change.

The European Union plans to make all plastics recyclable by 2030; and in other parts of the world, plastic bags, for example, have been outlawed for years.

There's also growing hope of action by the international community — a kind of "Paris Agreement" against plastic pollution.

One thing is for sure: If revelations over the extent of plastic impacts on the natural world — and potentially, human health — goes on, the pressure will only become more intense.

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