While plastic has many valuable uses, our dependency on it comes at high environmental, social, economic and health costs. The qualities that make plastic useful are also the ones that make it hazardous: designed to fool nature itself, most plastics are too resilient to biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe.
Our current efforts to recycle plastics have been inefficient so far: only 9 percent of plastic is recycled globally, and much of it is either thrown away or cannot be processed for recycling. One third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater, endangering our food, our livestock and the health of the soil. Invisible to the eye, microplastics linger in the environment, the food chain, and our bodies.
Soil is the foundation of our agricultural systems which support nearly all food-producing crops: about 95 percent of our food comes from soil. Fertile soil that produces our food is a finite resource, and plastic pollution can have long-lasting impact on soil health, biodiversity and productivity, all of which are essential to food security. To avoid the future where our food systems are choked by plastics, we must rethink the ways we produce, consume and dispose of them.
“Our soils silently bear the weight of discarded plastics, impacting our daily lives. On this World Environment Day, let us redefine our relationships with plastic, from design to disposal” says UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw.
The solution to plastic pollution is closer to the ground than we might think. Our commitment to beat plastic pollution combined with business incentives that address plastic dependency can result in a positive switch from the ‘throwaway economy’ to a ‘reuse’ society. Through our everyday choices as consumers, let us join efforts with governments and businesses, shifting toward sustainable plastic alternatives and reusable plastic products, to reduce damage to human health, the environment and the land.