Living in a sea of plastic: Who will clean up the mess?

A million plastic bottles are said to be sold across the world every minute. And nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic is dumped in the oceans every year.
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Man holds the highest and the most coveted place in the ecosystem on the blue planet. His intelligence and ability to make decisions that impact the entire planet are what set him apart from the rest. While this means great power for him, it also brings with it great responsibility—a responsibility that often proves hard to honour. Even as he stands at the epicentre of the world he has created for himself, the irresponsible choices man has been making threaten to destroy everything he has painstakingly built. Along with his world, there are many lives that are helplessly caught in the web of his actions.

Let’s back up a little. In the process of building his world, he squandered natural resources and drove animals and birds out of their habitats, disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Perhaps, the most reckless and indiscriminate of his actions is the irresponsible use of plastic. Everything from the groundwater table to landfills to the oceans is clogged with discarded bottles, bags, straws and cups—all of it non-biodegradable. Animals ingesting plastic is perhaps, the most heartbreaking outcome of this violation.

A million plastic bottles are said to be sold across the world every minute. And nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic is dumped in the oceans every year. There are 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in the Milky Way! Clearly, the time for polite persuasion has passed, leaving no choice but to crack the whip—in this case, simply banning plastic. The question is why does man need more than a nudge to be responsible towards what is his only home?

Caught up in a bubble of self-fulfilment, humans have failed to care about those whose chances they end up hurting. They say it is human to err. But is it really an error when something is done knowingly, and brazenly at that?

The answer is more ironic than one can imagine. A recent study suggests that 90 percent of people are aware of the ill effects of plastic, but use it anyway. There is little need to wonder what leads to such blatant indifference. Caught up in a bubble of self-fulfilment, humans have failed to care about those whose chances they end up hurting. They say it is human to err. But is it really an error when something is done knowingly, and brazenly at that? Humans have mastered the art of looking the other way as animals and birds feed on the poison they spew, so to speak. This apathy is not a great example to set for the generations to come. The time has come to turn over a new leaf.

Where does one begin? Not by looking to others for a solution; not by claiming helplessness; and definitely not by blaming the world. Things change by choosing to be part of the ‘10 percent’ who are not willing to look the other way; by owning up to the responsibility of leading by example, inspiring the rest to undo the damage and clean up the mess.

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