By Whitney Akinyi

With plastic pollution posing significant challenges to the planet, human health, and biodiversity, the 2023 World Environment Day focused on solutions to end this menace.

The world produces over 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste. While the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range between $US300 to US$600 billion per year.

A recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Turning off the Tap, highlights that existing technologies, coupled with deep policy and market shifts, could potentially reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040.

Commemorating the Day, “Plastic is made from fossil fuels – the more plastic we produce, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the worse we make the climate crisis. But we have solutions. We must work as one – governments, companies, and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste, and build a truly circular economy,” said  António Guterres, UN Secretary-General in a statement.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, emphasized the need for a complete redesign of plastic production, usage, recovery, and disposal to end plastic pollution.

“For the sake of the planet’s health, for the sake of our health, for the sake of our prosperity, we must end plastic pollution… On World Environment Day, I call on everybody to join the global movement and help us beat plastic pollution, once and for all,” said Andersen.

Various actions and initiatives have been taken worldwide to combat plastic pollution, including the announcement of a partnership between the International Air Travel Agency and UNEP to address sustainability challenges in the aviation industry.

Additionally, a Memorandum of Understanding between UNEP and the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) was unveiled, aiming to raise environmental and sustainability awareness in public transport networks.

With official celebrations taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire,  Jean-Luc Assi, the country’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development said the government has supported businesses in switching to reusable and biodegradable packaging following a decree issued in 2013 banning the production, import and marketing, possession and use of plastic bags.

This, he said, has led to the country’s largest city, Abidjan, becoming a hub for start-ups looking to beat plastic pollution. “So let’s all be aware of the need to combat plastic pollution. Let’s act now and all say stop to plastic pollution,” Assi urged.

With this year’s celebrations being supported by the Netherlands, the country’s Minister for Environment,  Vivianne Heijnen also emphasized the importance of raising awareness, sharing best practices, and securing a commitment from all stakeholders in the fight against plastic pollution.

World Environment Day on 5 June is one of the biggest international days for the environment. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1973, the event has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people from across the world engaging to protect the planet.