More meaningful New Year’s resolutions: Let’s save our common home

Perhaps one of the most important actions we can take as individuals is advocacy

Plastics everywhere

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By Joseph Lopez

Many of us would have made New Year’s resolutions at the start of this year.

We would have challenged ourselves to reduce weight and exercise more, to eat less and travel more and to be happier and grumble less. We may have promised ourselves to be kinder, read more books, take up that new hobby, live life more fully, and be more grateful for our blessings.

Often, these are resolutions recycled from previous years. And often they are forgotten once the festive season is over.

Few, I suspect, would have given much thought to the only common home we share. The state of our planet is dire. We depend on the powers that be to make it better for us. We depend on governments to reduce global warming, reduce our and legislate the laws needed for a better environment.

We feel a sense of helplessness in trying to improve the state of the environment. We feel this is beyond the control of the individual. We feel frustrated, shrug our shoulders and say c’est la vie (that’s life). Yet there is much each of us can do to reduce the harm we cause to our common home, not just for ourselves but also for future generations.

But good environmental practices actually start with us. The mantra of good environmental practices hinges on the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – and practices derived from these actions. Just do an internet search to find out the ways we can apply the three Rs to our lives.

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For a start, we can resolve to reduce consumption in the new year.  We can resolve to consume only what is required to fulfil our needs, not our wants. When we consume less, we use less of the Earth’s resources, save money and produce less waste.

We can reduce our consumption in many ways. Let us reflect and ask ourselves before buying anything, “Do I need this?” We can, for instance, buy fewer clothes by extending the use of those we already have. Walk more and use public transport where possible, instead of the car.

Let’s use less electricity and water where possible and repurpose or reuse items we would otherwise discard – eg glass and plastic containers – to give them another life. We can participate in recycling projects where this is possible.

Plastics are an indispensable part of many aspects of our lives. They have many good uses but they are also the bane of the environment. They cannot naturally degraded and, most times, cannot be recycled.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), plastic pollution is growing relentlessly. The world is now producing twice as much plastic waste as it did two decades ago. The bulk of it ends up in landfills, is incinerated or leaks into the environment, with the potential to harm our health. Only about 9% of plastics is successfully recycled.

A local newspaper recently reported that Malaysia discards about 2.3kg of plastics per person each year into the ocean.

One newspaper pointed out that the overall rubbish generated in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya alone in 2022 stood at 796,795 tonnes. Of this, plastics comprised 210,966 metric tonnes or 13%. 

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Most plastics in the ocean break up into tiny particles called microplastics. Other plastics called microbeads are designed to be small. They are used in many health and personal care products.

Microplastics are ubiquitous and have been found in places ranging from supposedly pristine mountaintops and even in the placentas of newborns. They have entered the food chain and even the human body through various ways, such as breathing dust particles, consuming food or drinking contaminated water. They pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean and are consumed by marine animals.

While still not proven, there are strong suggestions that microplastics have a deleterious effect on our health.

Cheap oil has made plastics cheap and given rise to a culture of plastic disposables.

How can we reduce this? As individuals, we can resolve to reduce our use of single-use plastics.

For a start, we can carry our own metallic water bottles. We can put a few reusable shopping bags, preferably made of fabric, in the boot of our cars for use at the supermarket. Refuse the plastic bag for small purchases that we make but carry your own reuseable foldable shopping bag instead. Carry your own containers if you are buying takeaway prepared food and do not accept plastic cutlery.

There are many other ways we can reduce the use of single-use plastics if we put our minds to it.

Perhaps one of the most important actions we can take as individuals is advocacy. We can voice our concerns by writing suggestions for good environmental practices to those in authority.

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Let us make strive to make our common home a better place in the New Year for future generations and ourselves.

Dr Joseph Lopez is a former scientist and university lecturer who has published on environmental matters over the years

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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