Today is Earth Day - why does it matter?

environment healthy living resilience Apr 22, 2024

The first Earth Day in 1970 mobilised millions of people from all walks of life to birth the modern environmental movement. 

Since then, Earth Day has evolved into the largest civic event on Earth, activating billions across 192 countries to safeguard our planet and fight for a brighter future.

The goal is to honour and celebrate our remarkable planet on this extraordinary day. 

And Earth Day is used as a reminder of the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability, encouraging us to come together and take action for a healthier planet and brighter future.

The theme for Earth Day 2024 is “60X40” ~ an unwavering commitment to end plastics for the sake of human and planetary health, demanding a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040.

Strategies to achieve this include:

  • Health Awareness - plastics are a danger to all living creatures as they disrupt the delicate balance of nature and life on Earth
  • Demand Change - rapidly phase out all single use plastics
  • Innovative Solutions - investing in innovative technologies and materials to build a plastic-free world

More than 500 billion plastic bags—one million bags per minute—were produced worldwide last year. 

Many plastic bags have a working life of a few minutes, followed by an afterlife of centuries. 

Even after plastics disintegrate, they remain as microplastics, minute particles permeating every niche of life on the planet. 

Why is too much plastic a problem?

Scientists estimate that roughly eight million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010.

Many plastics are not recycled or disposed of properly.  The most discarded plastics in 2017 were food wrappers, beverage bottles, and straws.

Plastics do not degrade naturally but will break down into smaller particles called microplastics.

Plastic pollution shows up almost everywhere, including the ground and in soils, in rivers and oceans, in the air and eventually in our bodies!

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are smaller than 5 millimetres in diameter.
They fall into two categories:

Primary—tiny particles designed for commercial use (such as microbeads used as exfoliants in beauty products and toothpastes, and microfibers that shed from plastic-based textiles like polyester, rayon, nylon, and acrylic with each wash) that can easily pass through water filtration systems and enter our waterways

Secondary—particles resulting from the breakdown of larger plastics like bottles

Plastics degrade over time but never go away. They break up into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics and microscopic nanoplastics. 

They are found in every ecosystem on Earth and consist of microbeads, microfibers, and broken-down pieces of plastic.

The Problem with Fast Fashion

The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments. Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60% more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long. 

Approximately 85% of garments end up in landfills or incinerators, with only 1% being recycled. Nearly 70% of clothing is made from crude oil, resulting in the release of dangerous microfibers when washed and continued contribution to long-term pollution in landfills. 

Microfibers are tiny pieces of threads and fibres that break off clothing. 

Clothing made from plastic (nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic, and spandex) sheds microfibers with every wash. These microfibers and microbeads go down the drain into sewer systems. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove all particles. 

Microplastics and Microfibres - and environmental disaster in the making

Microplastics can be discharged into waterways through wastewater effluent. If the microplastics are removed during the treatment process, they can remain in the sewage sludge that may be applied as fertiliser on agricultural fields. They can still end up in the environment, entering waterways through runoff. 

Microfibers are also in the air, entering waterways through dust fallout and surface runoff.

Are we consuming microplastics?

Microplastics are present in both tap water and bottled water. A study showed that an average of 325 plastic particles were found in a litre of bottled water as compared to 5.5 plastic particles per litre of tap water, according to Sherri Mason, a Penn State researcher. 

Microplastics are consumed by aquatic life and bioaccumulate in the food chain, travelling all the way from filter feeders to apex predators - that's us!

We consume toxin-saturated microplastics in seafood such as mussels but likely consume more microplastics in food via dust fallout from the air.

Do microplastics impact our health?

The answers are not yet clear, but microplastics are found in food, air, water, and soil. They are literally everywhere. 

There is some preliminary evidence that they may:

  • Chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities
  • Adult-onset diabetes
  • Cardiovascular system damage
  • Impaired brain and neurological functions
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

Scientists are studying impacts to both animal and human health. 

Much more research needs to be done to know what adverse effects they may have.

What can we do about this problem?

  1. Plan ahead

Bring refillable water bottles and refill them at a fountain.

Bring snacks in reusable containers.

Keep your own bags handy for when you go shopping.

  1. Make smart choices

Choose reusable bottles made of stainless steel, not plastic.

Buy used when possible.

Choose reusable over disposable.

Choose natural-fibre clothing or a microfiber filter for your laundry.

Use natural mulches instead of plastic sheeting in your landscaping.

  1. Avoid single-use items

Make use of reusable things as much as possible.

If a single-use item is used, make sure to recycle it properly when possible.

When recycling is not an option, always carefully dispose of plastic waste. Carry it with you until you find an appropriate waste can that isn't already overflowing.

  1. Spread the word

Educate others about the importance of reducing and reusing.

Share practices that work for you!

What other actions can you take?

Organise and schedule community cleanups.

Urge your favourite restaurants to use reusable or compostable ware and packaging.

Work with your municipality to offer recycling events.

Let local businesses know that you don't want single-use plastics.

Work with your local watershed groups to conduct citizen science research on local streams.

Educate others about plastic pollution and solutions—inspire by example!


Microplastic pollution is not a new problem. 

However, in recent years, the public has become more aware, and scientists are studying the seriousness of the problem. 

So while Earth Day is focused on awareness and political action, each of us as individuals can play a part throughout the year, and take steps for our own health, and ultimately that of Mother Earth and of all creatures who call her home.

Home Practice This Week ~ Awareness and Practice to Reduce Plastics

As always it starts with awareness! 

Read the list above of steps you can take, select one or two and for the next few days assess your practices.

Then start with a small change, a new practice to incorporate into your daily habits.  It could be using a refillable stainless-steel water bottle; or checking your clothing labels to wear only natural-fibre clothing.

You might be ready to be bold and help spread the word!  Help educate others or organise community clean-ups.

Enlist family members, friends, or neighbours, to join you and help keep you on track!

For more info on this and other natural health topics:

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