If plastic consumption were a country, it would be the fifth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world
“Ariba, don't throw the bottle on the road. The sweepers have just cleaned the road.”
“Sorry, I'll give it to my uncle; he can plant a yellow flower tree for us.”
During a quiet lockdown day in 2020, my seven and eight-year-old niece and nephew had this talk. Seeing their intense enthusiasm, I seized the chance, recorded them discussing plastic pollution in a short video, and shared it on Facebook.
While filming the video, I saw the kids had a good understanding of the negative impacts of plastic and were putting it into practice. As the youngest child in the family, I had the fantastic fortune of learning to appreciate nature from my elders from a young age. While I was frustrated to watch the risks of expanding plastic pollution in pandemic due to my childhood love for nature, this curiosity in youngsters pushed me to teach them and other children about plastic pollution.
By teaching my family's children, I understood how critical it is for young people like me to play a role in building a new generation of plastic-free living patterns and lessening previous generations' reliance on plastic. And, while fulfilling this essential responsibility, the most frequently asked question was, "Why talk so much about plastic bottles and polythene when we can't cope with disasters like storms, floods, river erosion, and salinity?"
According to the research, if plastic consumption were a country, it would be the fifth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world (Zheng and Suh, 2019). Plastics are now accelerating the climate crisis and health risks beyond simply causing environmental pollution.
Every year, the manufacture of plastic emits 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. According to the Paris climate agreement (2015), global greenhouse emissions must be kept under a carbon budget of 420–570 gigatons of carbon to stay below 1.5°C objectives. According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) report, plastic will account for 13% of the overall carbon budget on our planet by 2050. Excessive use and consumption of single-use plastics resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will likely exacerbate previous projections on plastic manufacturing.
Auritry: Thinking beyond plastics, towards a greener Bangladesh
To educate the youngsters, I commenced my voyage with Auritry, a non-profit organization working towards making a better, greener Bangladesh by combating plastic pollution. I started my journey as a research team member, developing study materials for a school project.
Later, I participated in a poster competition, including several grant programs. With the guidance and encouragement of Auritry's founder Sara Zabeen, I quickly became the research team trainer, owing to my environmental science background and strong research interest.
Through the Auritry platform, I've reached out to over 30 young people about plastic pollution, climate change, and SDG-6 thus far. Through Auritry's online classes, I teach university students about the effects of plastic pollution on climate change and achieving the SDGs. Auritry's creative efforts and dreams also include implementing the study project in Adivasi schools and supplying study materials in the Adivasi language.
As an outcome, Auritry aspires to preserve the Adivasi language and culture in Bangladesh. Currently, this study project is happening online where two Adivasi volunteers deliver content among both indigenous and non-indigenous students. Auritry hopes to teach non-indigenous people about Adivasi people's expertise and techniques in using biodegradable, environmentally benign materials to produce plastic alternatives. I currently work as a General Secretary and use my connections to help Auritry grow by collaborating with other environmental organizations and contributing to planning and strategy development.
Online advocacy journey
While training my kids and other youths, I realized that plastic pollution significantly impacts more than half of the SDGs. SDG-6 (Clean water and sanitation), for example, is affected by both plastic pollution and climate change. As a response, I began looking for online opportunities to learn about SDG-6 advocacy. WaterAid Bangladesh organized the - Water and Climate Youth Advocate Training Initiative to provide such a chance. After the training, I shared my learnings with my Auritry peers, who vowed to promote WASH and climate advocacy knowledge in their communities.
Another eye-opening experience was participating in the first cohort of the Jolkona Program, co-organized by WaterAid Bangladesh and the Engineering Students Association of Bangladesh (ESAB). This collaboration aims to improve awareness and understanding of WASH and climate change issues, emphasizing developing the skill and competency of young aspiring female engineers for project execution and campaigns.
And it was mainly via the ICCCAD's RISE youth leadership program that I developed a desire to improve myself as a qualified youth. For over a year, I've learned the necessary knowledge and skills for climate action through this apprenticeship.
I have realized that change does not come overnight throughout my journey, but small changes can bring significant changes one day. Hence, individual-level understanding and action against plastic pollution will put us far ahead in climate combat while fighting the pandemic.
Rayhana Akter is an undergraduate student of Environmental Sciences at Jahangirnagar University. She is working at Auritry as a General Secretary and a participant of RISE youth leadership programme. Her research interest lies in plastic pollution, climate action, and environmental sustainability. Rayhana is available at [email protected]