By Angelo George
Today’s youth are the future of our nation and the driving force of society. They have often taken the onus of leading path-breaking movements and emerged as the harbingers of change. These young minds have inspired us with their relentless ambition to stand strong amidst odds, transcending barriers of class and religion, unifying the world and achieving the impossible. These youngsters, such as Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg or Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, have made the world realise, with their work, that the next generation is the most critical and most affected stakeholder when talking about the global future and climate change. However, today’s youth is inheriting a planet impacted by the actions of the preceding generations, notably plastic pollution.
Plastic plays an integral part in our daily lives due to its versatility. It has revolutionised and transformed industries from healthcare and defence to aerospace and construction. Yet, it has emerged as one of the most significant environmental challenges. Overconsumption of plastic and poor waste management practices has led to the clogging of rivers, overflowing landfills, and endangered marine habitats.
The highly versatile material has become an environmental problem primarily due to a lack of awareness of the value of used plastic. Inadequate segregation and inappropriate disposal have further led to an unfortunate situation. People don’t realise that used plastic is a valuable resource that can be upcycled into higher-value products. For example, PET bottles costing Rs 15 per kg can be recycled into apparels, which is retailed for over Rs. 1000.
Research shows over 80% of littering is intentional and performed by humans. Hence, there is a need to bring a behavioural shift in the usage, handling and recycling of used plastic.
There is an urgent need to make people, especially the youth, understand the benefits of plastic recycling. We need to bring a behavioural shift towards appropriate disposal and repurposing of plastic to help build a greener future. Parents need to inculcate these habits in children at a young age. Like teaching life skills at an early age is important, educating children about segregating and recycling plastic is equally essential. These days several specially designed activities about recycling teach children to generate less waste and reuse it. These include creating toys out of scrap, cartoons promoting recycling, video games and books on the environment and recycling.
Instilling these habits at a young age help in shaping their thoughts and actions for the rest of their lives. This was noticed most recently at the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where Japanese fans won global love by cleaning the stadium post the match against Germany. “We can’t leave a place without making it clean. It’s a part of our education, everyday learning,” Japanese fans could be heard saying in the numerous viral videos.
Starting early with sustainable education allows kids to explore a zillion of real-world skills that will help them improve the planet. Furthermore, it is essential to educate the youth on plastic recycling, highlight the benefits of current recycling programmes, and introduce new programmes. Some universities offer undergraduate and graduate-level courses on Environmental Engineering and Polymer Science or Polymer Engineering, allowing students to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving, and take action to improve the environment. Manufacturers and students can use this course material to learn more about the processes involved in plastic recycling and the current trends in the industry. Further, this can be utilised to get a perspective on plastic recycling-related topics.
Young minds need political and societal shifts to build a circular economy. That includes providing them with education and supporting them with unique ideas and skills to foster innovation. Creating awareness among the youth about treating used plastic as a valuable resource will stimulate a sense of responsibility towards building a sustainable future. Hence, organisations need to break traditional boundaries and make youth a part of the change. It will help induce them to execute an effective, sustainable strategy to create a greener planet for the future.
The author is CEO, Bisleri International Private Limited. Views are personal.