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The World’s Biggest Brands Commit To Tackling Plastic Pollution, But What Else Can Be Done?

Belinda Chiu

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Plastic Pollution

After World War II, the world experienced a plastics boom, with production growing at an exponential rate thanks to the material’s versatility and durability. Plastic touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from the materials used to construct buildings and homes, vehicles, and technology, to household products, clothing, and shoes. It is estimated that we have produced more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since this time, of which less than 10% is recycled. That’s where the plastic pollution problem comes in.

Many countries in the Global North turned to China to recycle their plastics, but ever since China changed its policy, the United States and many other countries are forced to find other avenues for taking care of their plastic waste and address the plastic pollution crisis back home.

Who is responsible for the crisis and what is being done?

Plastic pollution activists and coalitions have emphasized the responsibility that the world’s largest brands play in addressing this global crisis. Civil society members from more than 80 countries hosted brand audits through clean-ups during the #BrandAudit2019 initiative, calling on these brands to change their practices of manufacturing and selling products in single-use plastic packaging.

Some big brands have taken responsibility for their role in plastic pollution and have taken action. Coca-Cola announced its World Without Waste initiative with the goals to achieve 100% recycled packaging using 50% recycled materials, and by 2030 collect and recycle one bottle or can for every item sold. Unilever made a similar announcement, promising to cut its use of virgin plastics by 50%, and collecting and processing its plastic packaging.

One social enterprise is making it a little bit easier for big brands to shift their single-use plastic packaging practices. TerraCycle recently launched the Loop Store, a global circular shopping platform that allows customers to purchase products in zero waste packaging. Following the “milkman model”, products sold through the Loop Store are stored in reusable containers that are collected, washed, and reused again.

Innovations in tackling plastic pollution

Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious project that aimed to collect the massive volume of plastic found in the oceans globally. At 2,000 feet in length, this plastic collection device has successfully collected plastic since its initial trials. Other entrepreneurs are developing products made from plant-based materials, such as utensils made from avocado seeds and creating faux leather using nopal, or producing products that do not require plastic packaging, in efforts to reduce our reliance on products made with plastic.

Consumers, recognizing the power they hold by their purchasing behaviors, are also raising their concerns with companies to change their practices. In a recent petition to Trader Joe’s, customers called on grocery chain to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging, garnering over 120,000 signatures. The company acknowledged this grassroots call for change, providing a status update since their announcement in late 2018.

Conclusions and the future for tackling plastic pollution

While there is hope hearing the world’s biggest brands acknowledge the role they play in and their plans for curbing plastic pollution, it is evident that is not enough. It takes more than a few companies to set green goals in order to move the needle forward. We need to continue holding big brands accountable, foster and support new ideas that open new horizons for plastic packaging and waste, and change our own behaviors to start addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.

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Davos 2020: The World’s Most Powerful Leaders Discuss What To Do About Climate Change

Haider Sarwar

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Yesterday, 3,000 of the world’s most powerful and wealthy leaders began their week-long meeting in Davos for the World Economic Forum’s 50th annual meeting. Spanning this next week, conversations around what to do about climate change will be a priority.

Activist Greta Thunberg, 2019’s Time Magazine Person of the Year, will open the debate on how to avert the crisis. Leaders like President Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, the Federal Chancellor of Germany, will sit in on this debate. The young climate activist will not be alone, however.

A Davos Priority: Sharing What to Do About Climate Change

Like all years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) aims to direct world leaders in addressing the world’s most pressing matters.

From racial discrimination to economics to climate change, people are free to speak their opinions and advocate for action, which includes sharing thoughts on what to do about climate change.

This year, WEF is pushing the theme of “How to Save the Planet.” Highlight speakers like Al Gore will present their views on the topic and discuss what to do about climate change.

Teen Activists to Share Out What to Do About Climate Change

Activism and advocacy for the climate crisis have been on the rise for the past year. Now, there are a number of activists advocating for action in their communities.

Moreover, for the first time ever, the World Economic Forum will host teenage change-makers. Greta Thunberg will not be alone, as activists Autumn Peltier and Ayakha Melithafa will speak on what to do about climate change alongside her.

Similar to other public forums, Davos will allow individuals with opposing opinions to take part in the debate.

Allowing Clashing Views to Be Shared: What to Do About Climate Change Among Opposition

The WEF is asking for countries to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This debate will allow climate activists to challenge leaders like President Donald Trump over his views on climate change.

Recently, Trump has been aggressively rolling back on a variety of environmental protection legislation. Furthermore, he has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

The debate will provide for an outlet for world leaders, business owners, and activists to share their opinions.

Only time can tell if the 3,000 attendees to the meeting will come to an agreement. However, it does sound promising that attendees will explore a variety of topics, including what to do about climate change.

From feeding the planet for the future to the danger that tropical forests face, the attendees will have much to talk about.

Greta Thunberg’s Role in Davos 2020

The teenage activist has managed to start a world movement against the climate crisis this past year.

Her activism has not slowed, and it is evident as she will be one of the biggest highlights for the WEF. It has been speculated that the discussion on this topic will dominate the talks in Davos.

Either way, the voices of all the climate activists that attend the WEF will be heard by individuals from around the world. The debates will run until Friday of this week.

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How Can YOU Help In The Fight Against The Australia Fires?

Maddie Blaauw

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Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a singed koala from the smoldering remnants of gum forests on Kangaroo Island on January 7.

Australia fires have burned an area twice the size of Maine in the past few months.

Authorities report that at least 25 people have died. Two thousand homes have been destroyed. Tens of thousands have been urged to leave their homes due to spreading flames and declining air quality. 

What’s even more alarming are estimations for affected animals. Some 600,000 different species are contained in the area burning, and many are completely unique to Australia. Based on calculations from Professor Christopher Dickman of the University of Sydney, 1 billion animals have died.

And Australia still has another month of fire season left.

So how can we help?

How to Help Affected Families of the Australia Fires

There are two main groups that are hurting because of the fires: people and animals. Some ways to help out the displaced people due to Australia fires include: 

1. The Australian Red Cross (for Communities)

Helping out with medical aid, food, and shelter, this organization has sent over 1,200 people to affected communities to help meet the increased need in their 70 evacuation and recovery centers. 

Australian actor Dacre Montgomery, who starred in “Stranger Things”, set up a GoFundMe page to gather funds for the Australian Red Cross.  Help reach the goal of raising $500,000 here.

2. Australia Wildlife Fund (to Increase Firefighting Efforts)

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance donates $3 million to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance donates $3 million to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities.

This organization was started by a $3 million donation from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance. It first aims to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities. The Australia Wildlife Fund will also dedicate funds to wildlife, both in the most urgent times and after the fires to restore ecosystems. Donate here

3. New South Wales Rural Fire Service (for Families of Firefighters Who Passed Away)

Battling the Australia fires is a dangerous job. Thousands of brave men and women are risking their lives to limit the damage of the fires. They don’t always come home; three have lost their lives so far in this wildfire season. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is accepting donations for the families of those firefighters here. 

How to Help Impacted Animal Habitats

Wildlife affected by the fires need aid right now, but they will also need new habitats when the fire season is over. The organizations below have laid out plans to tackle one or both of these issues. 

1. WIRES (for Wildlife Rescue)

New South Wales Wildlife, Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. is the country’s largest wildlife rescue organization. WIRES volunteers carried out over 3,300 rescues in December alone. Donate here.

2. Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital (for Injured Animals)

Run in part by Steve Irwin’s daughter, this zoo has started the Wildlife Warriors program, which is raising money for new enclosures to house the influx of flying foxes and koalas injured in the fire. Help build these new facilities by donating here. 

3. World Wildlife Fund Australia (Planting Trees and Restoring Lost Habitats)

The WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees.
The WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees.

One of the organizations mainly focused on the repercussions of habitat loss, the WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees in what were previously highly populated koala habitats.

Their action will begin at the conclusion of the fire season and are accepting donations here

Companies That Have Provided Support During the Australia Fires

Airbnb is offering temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne. Photo Credit: Thomas Trutschel
Airbnb is offering temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne.
Photo Credit: Thomas Trutschel

Another way to help Australia is to support companies who have helped the country fight the fires. Airbnb, for example, has offered temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne, the places the fires’ effects have been the worst, who have been displaced.

Amazon contributed AU$1 million to aid fire relief efforts. Coca-Cola Amatil has given paid leave to workers volunteering with emergency services to fight the fires and provide relief, and 250,000 bottles of water to volunteers.

Additionally, several retail chains in Australia like Levi’s and The North Face pledged to donate 100% of profits from a day last week to the Australian Red Cross.

Beyond Donations: What Should Businesses and Government do About the Australia Fires

Donations now, or helping out however you can, is, of course, selfless and highly impactful. However, we also need to think about how these fires could look in the future if current environmental practices around the world continue.

Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other political leaders have a role to play too.

While climate change may not have started the fires, the increased temperatures dry out plant material, essentially increasing kindling for the fires, making it easier for them to grow and spread.

In 2018, Australia’s national science agency and Bureau of Meteorology concluded that a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures has likely contributed to increased intensity in the Australia fires. 

Hopefully, these fires can help spur some changes in environmental policy worldwide. So even if donating is not possible at this time, help out Australia by pressuring businesses and governments to put in place more environmentally friendly practices.

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Meet Leah Namugerwa: The 15-Year-Old Leading Climate Activism In Uganda

Haider Sarwar

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Greatly inspired by Greta Thunberg’s activism, 15-year-old Leah Namugerwa has made strides in advocating for climate justice in Uganda. With increasing droughts and other adverse effects of climate change, the need for attention is vital. Both motivated and determined, Namugerwa puts her faith in the younger people of Uganda.

How Climate Change is Affecting Uganda

Namugerwa has been a witness to many of the negative effects that climate change has led to. From environmental degradation to the inability to grow crops, climate change is affecting Ugandan people in all aspects of life. Moreover, in a report released by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the problems are accumulating.

Droughts collectively affected 2.4 million people from 2004 to 2013. Moreover, between 2010 and 2011, droughts caused an estimated damage value of about $1.2 billion. That’s equivalent to roughly 7.5% of Uganda’s GDP in 2010.

In addition, climate change will lead to a 1.5-degree increase in Uganda’s average temperature by 2030. With the increasing temperature, Uganda is susceptible to environmental degradation, which has already begun. Furthermore, all these factors are causing the agricultural sector of Uganda to falter.

Leah Namugerwa has not been a silent witness to all of this; the teen hopes to incite change within Uganda.

Who is Leah Namugerwa?

Following the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, Namugerwa began protesting for climate action every Friday. Skipping school and facing a lot of opposition, Leah Namugerwa was adamant to get her message across. Soon, the teen was able to rally many other Ugandans for the cause. Her biggest goal, apart from enforcing current climate legislation, is to bring attention to climate change.

Being a major player in the protests in Uganda, many fear for Namugerwa’s safety. Replying, she says, “My safety? I think that will make more climate awareness, if they try to [arrest me]” she states. “If that happens, [the media] will have to come.”

Namugerwa’s family was especially reinforcing for her protests. In fact, Namugerwa’s uncle, Tim Mugerwa, is part of Green Campaign Africa. This organization supports Fridays for Future Uganda. Furthermore, Mugerwa plans to run for president in 2021 on a green platform.

Leah Namugerwa’s Faith is in the Young People of Uganda

The median age of Uganda is about 16 years old. Namugerwa admits that the education of her younger peers is essential in gaining support for climate action. By educating her peers, Namugerwa hopes to create a lasting impact on Uganda.

For now, Leah Namugerwa calls for everyone to actively get involved in the fight against ecological breakdown.

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