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International Mother Earth Day 2024: Planet vs Plastics

By Delia Chatoor

In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 annually as International Mother Earth Day and the theme for 2024 is Planet vs Plastics. This coincides with the convening of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) called to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

The session is scheduled for April 23 to April 29 in Ottawa, Canada. The focus will be on an increased “awareness of the health risk of plastics, the rapid phasing out of the single use plastics and the adoption of a Treaty in Plastic Pollution.”

From manufacture to disposal, plastics continue to pose serious threats to human, plant, and animal health. There is also ample evidence that they cause vast amounts of waste, clogging watercourses and ecosystems.

The production of plastics involves the use of chemicals which recent reports have disclosed enter our bloodstream and can reside “in our bodies until the day we die.” Reports also show that nearly six billion tons of plastic waste are responsible for polluting Mother Earth.

Plastic is not biodegradable and is made from fossil fuels which contain toxic chemicals and, according to scientists, can take up “to 1,000 years to break down”.

When one-use plastics are discarded, they build up in the environment, cause harm to marine wildlife, poison groundwater and contaminate soil. Greenhouse gases have also been shown to emerge from plastic production.

We must also recall that oceans alone are the planet’s largest carbon sink in that they store “as much as 90 per cent of the additional heat that carbon emissions have trapped in our atmosphere.”

The 2024 theme is not only timely but it provides another opportunity to utilise the many solutions which already are available, for example, in existing international agreements which provide procedures to reduce marine pollution, address climate change, and enhance the sustainable use of oceans.

We seem, however, to live in a throw-away society whereby nothing is kept for a long time, where recycling laws are either non-existent or woefully inadequate or not disseminated as well as being unenforceable.

In June 2023, Pope Francis observed, “it is the responsibility before God for the faithful to care for the planet’s environment.”

To show such commitment and to contribute to a “more environmentally friendly world”, the Vatican has banned the sale of single-use plastics.

It is commendable that Trinidad and Tobago has been engaged in ongoing consultations with stakeholders in the Food and Beverage Sector to encourage the shift from single-use plastics.

Care for the environment has also been placed at the centre of the country’s Social and Economic Development and is linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and Goal 12 (Climate Change).

It is, therefore, imperative that our goal should be to reduce the daily use of “unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastics.” We are being called upon to ensure that they do not flow from land-based sources to rivers, wetlands, sensitive coastal zones, and seas.

International Mother Earth Day could also be examined alongside the World Environment Day on June 5.The focus of the latter will be on land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience.

These events should heighten awareness that there is only one Mother Earth, and we may keep before us the hymn of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment, in which he called for praises to be offered to God the Creator for what He created, and which should be protected and preserved for all.



Delia Chatoor is a retired foreign service officer and a Lay Minister of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando Parish.