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Earth Today | Youngsters get stake in reduction of plastics pollution

Published:Thursday | June 8, 2023 | 12:39 AM

JAMAICA’S YOUNG people are being given an opportunity to identify or otherwise champion solutions to the growing problem of plastics pollution, with the launch of the competition dubbed ‘Beat Plastic Pollution JA’.

The competition was kicked off by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) and partners on World Environment Day, June 5.

“This is a joint United Nations initiative aimed at highlighting the urgent need for action to reduce plastic pollution, which is a major challenge in the Caribbean and globally. The Caribbean is the biggest plastic polluter per capita in the world,” explained a release from the UNEP CEP, citing the 2018 research work of Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser.

“In 2015 alone, an estimated 79 million tons of solid waste, including 1.3 million tons of plastics, were introduced into the coastal waters of the wider Caribbean region,” it added.

The UNEP CEP said that the competition, which will run until June 23, sees Jamaican students demonstrating “the urgent need to work across the plastic life cycle and articulate different strategies to reduce and reuse plastic”.

“They will showcase short videos of school activities addressing plastic pollution or pitch a ‘Beat Plastic Pollution JA’ project that they would like to see implemented,” it explained of the competition, which is being supported by the UNEP Caribbean Sub-Regional Office, UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat, UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Women, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Christopher Corbin, coordinator for the UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat, said the project is part of the ongoing support provided by UNEP to the Government of Jamaica, which inked the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol) to the Cartagena Convention in 2010.

With it, they committed to “reduce marine pollution from plastics and solid waste”.

“New regional UNEP projects, funded by the Global Environment Facility (over US$1 million) and the European Union, will promote and accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics in Jamaica,” Corbin added.

Students are to submit their videos and a completed talent release form to unep-zerowaste-caribbean@un.org.

The competition comes on the heels of the recent publication of a report from the UNEP titled Turning off the tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy.

That 2023 report reminds the people of the urgency to address the problem of plastic pollution, while proposing a series of shifts to bring about an end to plastic pollution, in line with the decision to do so made at the fifth UN Environment Assembly in March 2022, and with ongoing global negotiations for a legally binding agreement that gets countries there.

“Global plastic production and use has grown exponentially since the 1950s, with around nine million people employed globally in polymer production and plastic processing industries. Light, strong and seemingly inexpensive plastics have permeated our lives, our societies and our economies – but at a pace that has escalated into significant costs to the environment, human health and the economy,” reads a section of the executive summary of the report.

Currently, the world produces 430 million metric tons of plastics each year, of which over two-thirds are short-lived products which soon become waste, and a growing amount – 139 million metric tons in 2021 after one single use. Plastic production is set to triple by 2060 if ‘business as usual’ continues.

The report proposes three shifts to help bring about change: reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify.

Reuse, it explained, is about accelerating the market for reusable products, “to transform the throwaway economy to a reuse society, while recycling is concerned with accelerating the market for plastics recycling by ensuring recycling becomes a more stable and profitable venture”.

On reorienting and diversifying, the report said it is necessary to realise sustainable alternatives and that provisions must be made for plastics that already exist, but which can neither be reused nor recycled.

“It also refers to new ways of financing collection and disposal of legacy plastics and preventing microplastics from entering the economy and the environment,” the report noted.

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