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A campaign for plastic-free earth

The transformative power of education and collaboration in addressing environmental challenges and inspiring meaningful change
12:00 AM Apr 23, 2024 IST | Dr. Showkat Rashid Wani
a campaign for  plastic free earth
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We just celebrated the Earth Day. Beyond the traditional tree plantings and green attire, Earth Day serves as a springboard for global conversations. It’s a reminder on our shared responsibility towards a healthy planet and a call to action for individuals, organisations, and governments alike.

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Unlike any other annual event, Earth Day serves as a yearly ‘wake-up call’, shaking us out of complacency and urging us to confront the harsh reality of our impact on the planet. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, and biodiversity loss are no longer distant threats. This year’s Earth Day theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” brings attention to the serious issue of plastic pollution and how it harms nature.

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In our BEd programme offered by Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir   one of the core subjects is Environmental Education. I teach this subject to BEd trainees beyond the four walls of the classroom in the form of action research.

As part of their training program, the BEd trainees brainstorm creative ways to raise awareness about plastic pollution and inspire positive change. They recognize the importance of engaging with various stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, and local businesses, to maximise their impact. Their journey begins with a series of workshops and seminars conducted at practice teaching schools, where they share eye-opening facts and statistics about plastic pollution and its detrimental effects on the environment.

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Through interactive activities and discussions, they encourage students to reflect on their own plastic usage habits and explore alternative solutions. To further spread their message beyond the classroom, the BEd trainees organise community events such as plastic clean-up drives and recycling workshops. They collaborate with local environmental organisations to provide resources and support for these initiatives, attracting participation from residents of all ages.

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Harnessing the power of social media, the BEd trainees launch a digital campaign to reach a wider audience and amplify their message. They share informative posts, videos, and infographics about plastic pollution, using hashtags to spark conversations and inspire action. One of their most impactful initiatives is the creation of a plastic-free pledge campaign.

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Encouraging individuals and businesses to commit to reducing their plastic usage, they distribute pledge cards and set up collection points for reusable items such as bags, bottles, and containers. As their efforts gain momentum, the BEd trainees witness a ripple effect of positive change throughout their community.

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This way students became passionate advocates for environmental conservation, organising their own clean-up events and sustainability projects. Local businesses embraced eco-friendly practices, such as offering discounts for customers who bring their own reusable cups and containers. By the end of their training program, the BEd trainees succeed in creating a culture of awareness and action around plastic pollution in their catchment areas.

They demonstrate the transformative power of education and collaboration in addressing environmental challenges and inspiring meaningful change. As they graduate and embark on their careers as educators, they carry with them the lessons learned from their journey—the importance of empathy, empowerment, and collective action in creating a more sustainable and harmonious world for future generations to inherit.

I recently broke fast at one of the masjids. There were around 200 worshipers, and they were being offered plastic water bottles to break the fast. I along with few worshipers were carrying reusable water bottle from our home. Imagine if on an average 300 worshipers breakfast and use plastic water bottle for 30 days, nine thousand waste water bottles will be added as a non-biodegradable pollutant to the environment.

If each environment conscious citizen carries his own reusable bottle we can control environmental degradation to a large extent. By opting for sustainable alternatives such as reusable water bottles or filtered tap water, we can embody these values and reduce our ecological footprint.

Discouraging use of plastic water bottles also presents an opportunity to educate our community about the environmental and health risks associated with single-use plastics. Through awareness campaigns, sermons, and educational materials, we can inspire positive change and empower individuals to make conscious choices that benefit both themselves and the planet.

The environmental impact stemming from plastic water bottles is a pressing concern due to various factors:

Manufacturing Pollution: The production process of plastic bottles involves extracting raw materials like petroleum or natural gas, leading to emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Moreover, the manufacturing phase generates chemical waste, potentially contaminating water sources and harming ecosystems.

Transportation Emissions: Plastic bottles are often transported long distances, contributing to carbon emissions from vehicles such as trucks and ships. This transportation-related pollution further compounds the environmental footprint of plastic bottles.

Single-Use Plastic Disposal: A significant issue arises from the disposal of plastic water bottles after a single use. Many of these bottles end up in landfills, where they persist for years and decades, releasing harmful chemicals into the surroundings and endangering wildlife and marine ecosystems.

Micro Plastic Pollution: Over time, plastic bottles break down into tiny particles known as micro plastics, which can contaminate water sources and enter the food chain, posing risks to both human health and biodiversity.

Resource Depletion: The production of plastic bottles consumes valuable resources, including fossil fuels and water. This not only contributes to pollution but also aggravates resource scarcity and environmental degradation.

Here are some action points to address the pollution caused by plastic water bottles:

Encourage Adoption of Reusable Options: Advocate for the widespread use of reusable water bottles crafted from materials like stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastics.

Institute Bottle Return Programs: Introduce schemes where consumers pay a small deposit upon purchasing a beverage in a plastic bottle. Upon returning the empty bottle for recycling, consumers can reclaim this deposit. Such programs incentivize recycling and discourage littering.

Improve Recycling Infrastructure: Invest in enhancing recycling facilities and systems to facilitate easier and more widespread plastic bottle recycling. This involves expanding the availability of recycling bins in public areas.

Regulate Single-Use Plastics: Advocate for policies and regulations aimed at limiting or phasing out the production and usage of single-use plastic bottles. This could involve bans on plastic bottles in specific contexts or incentivising businesses to transition to alternative packaging options.

Launch Educational Initiatives: Roll out educational campaigns to increase awareness about the environmental impact of plastic water bottles and promote sustainable alternatives. These campaigns target consumers, businesses, and policymakers, encouraging behaviour change and support for environmentally friendly policies.

Invest in Research and Development: Allocate resources to research and develop alternative packaging materials that are more environmentally sustainable. This might include exploring biodegradable plastics, plant-based materials, or innovative packaging designs.

Promote Water Refill Stations: Install refill stations in public spaces like parks, schools, and transportation hubs where individuals can replenish their reusable bottles at minimal or no cost. This reduces reliance on single-use plastic bottles while promoting hydration.

Encourage Corporate Sustainability: Encourage businesses to take responsibility for their environmental impact by adopting sustainable packaging practices, reducing plastic usage, and investing in recycling initiatives. Consumers can support companies prioritising sustainability efforts while avoiding those contributing to plastic pollution.

Implementing these alternative strategies can help mitigate the pollution associated with plastic water bottles and advance progress toward a more sustainable future.

Dr. Showkat Rashid Wani, Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

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