All is not lost: how humanity is saving the planet today

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All is not lost: how humanity is saving the planet today
All is not lost: how humanity is saving the planet today

On April 22, the annual International Mother Earth Day is celebrated all over the world. Unlike Earth Day, this holiday is intended to highlight the relationship between the planet, its ecosystems and humans, who can not only damage the Earth, but also take really important steps to protect the environment.


Recently, against the backdrop of global self-isolation, fake news has become popular about how the planet was allegedly cleansed in the absence of people - so much so that dolphins, fish and swans returned to the canals of Venice. These photographs were quickly found to be unreliable, but it was very easy for the general public to believe in them - the reputation of all mankind is affecting.

Meanwhile, people are able not only to pollute the environment and exterminate rare species, but also to preserve them. Experts of the "History of Plastic" project, which will be released on the Discovery Channel on April 22 at 20:10 (Moscow time), tell about how entire states, industrial companies and the entire population of the planet have rallied today to prevent a plastic catastrophe. And we talk about other effective environmental projects and initiatives that are being implemented today by both huge corporations and lone volunteers.


Old Well Recycled: The Recycling Trend

According to the statistics of the World Bank, every inhabitant of the planet on average produces about 1 kilogram of garbage every day. This means that in total all of humanity produces over 2 billion tons of waste per year, and, according to forecasts, in the near future this volume will grow by 70%. Waste disposal is a long, expensive, complex process, usually associated with high risks for the environment: landfill and incineration of waste cause serious harm to the environment, pollute the soil and air.

The alternative is waste recycling - this method is much more profitable from an economic point of view and safer for nature. So, for example, by handing over 80 kilograms of waste paper for recycling, one tree can be saved from cutting down, and the energy obtained from recycling one aluminum can will provide three hours of TV operation.

Leading in this area, according to OECD Recycling Statistics, Germany, which recycles 68% of municipal solid waste, and the average in Europe is about 46%. Such results in Germany were helped to achieve not only state regulation, but also the active involvement of citizens who are very responsible about the issue of waste sorting.

An additional motivation for the disciplined handing over of cans and bottles for processing for the Germans is the fact that the tax on packaging is included in the cost of the product: by returning it to a special machine, which is located in almost every store, you can get a "deposit" back, that is, the cost of the product itself. bottles.

Private companies also offer an unusual approach to encouraging citizens to hand over containers for recycling.

For example, in several cities in Turkey, automatic feeders for stray dogs are installed - as soon as a person puts an empty bottle inside the receiver (or any plastic packaging, including shampoo, metal cans and cardboard beverage bags), a certain portion of dry is poured out of the window. stern. A similar system works in Beijing: here Incom has installed vending machines for plastic bottles in crowded places, and you can get a reward in return. The amount will be credited either to the account to pay for the phone, or to the transport card to pay for the fare.

Private companies not only encourage citizens to hand over plastic bottles, but also actively use recyclable materials in production - the trend for such products has already sufficiently strengthened in the market. For example, the Brazilian company Muzzicycles produces bicycles made from recycled plastic bottles.


It takes about 200 bottles to make one frame, but the bicycles themselves are much easier and cheaper to manufacture. From the same recycled plastic bottles, Rothy's company makes shoes - such that even the English Duchess Meghan Markle is not shy about buying and wearing them.

Not only plastic is used as recyclable materials: a variety of waste products receive a second life. Milk and juice cartons are used to produce corrugated board and ecowool, pipe plugs, composite panels for building cladding, ballpoint pens, benches and even in road construction. From broken or simply unnecessary toys that are collected in kindergartens, the Dutch company EcoBirdy produces furniture, and the American brand Bureo works with old fishing nets, from which it creates skateboard boards.

The production of one such skateboard requires about 30 square meters of nets, which are assembled along the Chilean coast, which at the same time allows to partially solve the problem of pollution of the water area in this region. In addition, the steels and skateboard wheels are environmentally friendly: they are made from completely recyclable raw materials (30% vegetable oil).

Sometimes people take inspirational ideas for the protection of the environment right out of thin air - literally. For example, the Dutch designer Daan Roosegaard creates jewelry that at the same time reminds of the damage humanity is causing to the planet. A jeweler makes unique rings from smog collected in Beijing.

In the capital of China, the level of air pollution often reaches a critical level, and at times the townspeople literally have nothing to breathe, and it is simply impossible to consider something beyond a few meters. A special system, developed by the designer, allows the soot particles to be pulled out of the air, after which they are compressed and turned into a piece of jewelry instead of traditional gemstones.

Thank you, no package needed: no plastic

Sorting waste, handing it over for recycling and using recyclable materials in production are, of course, important and effective steps that can significantly reduce the ecological footprint of mankind, however, as experts of the "History of Plastic" project note, the task must be solved at a qualitatively different level.

The heroes of this documentary, which won awards at the Mill Valley Film Festival and 2019 DOC NYC, systematically consider the problem of planetary pollution and emphasize that the first step should be to stop the mass production of plastic - it must be reduced to a reasonable minimum, because this is the only way to radically turn the tide of events …

The film takes place on three continents and gradually builds a disappointing global picture: hectares of garbage in the place of fields and forests, rivers and seas clogged with waste, the sky choking from toxic emissions from the production and processing of plastics. The film features interviews with experts and eco-activists who talk about the catastrophic consequences of the mass production of plastic, as well as archival footage from the 1930s, which allows us to trace the problem at different stages. They can be seen on April 22 at 20:10 (Moscow time) on the Discovery Channel.

Many countries are aware of the seriousness of the situation and, as a result, the need to phase out plastic. In 2019, at the UN Environment Assembly, 170 countries agreed to reduce the use of plastic by 2030, and the European Parliament adopted a bill banning single-use plastic products: it will come into force in 2021, and from that moment it will not be possible to sell tableware, canteens in Europe. appliances, straws, containers, cotton swabs and some other plastic items.

However, some countries began to implement restrictive measures much earlier: France, back in 2016, banned the sale of bags with a density below 50 microns, in Italy, plastic bags have been banned since 2011, and in Belgium since 2017. In April 2019, it joined this list and Georgia: the country officially bans disposable plastic bags of any thickness made from polymers, including their production, import and sale.

For violation, entrepreneurs face a fine - about $ 180. In total, more than 40 countries have already abandoned single-use packages in whole or in part, but Russia is not yet among them. Meanwhile, on average, a Russian buys 180 plastic bags a year: each of them is used for only 12 minutes, and decomposes, according to various estimates, for about 400 years.

Woke up - take the planet away: initiatives to cleanse nature of plastic

While countries are gradually introducing legislative initiatives at the state level, both private structures and activists have been making their contribution to the fight against plastic pollution, and for a long time. In 1972, the Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit organization, was founded, which today operates around the world, initiating the largest volunteer movement to improve the health of the oceans.

Its activity is difficult to overestimate, because every year humanity throws out 275 million tons of plastic waste, and more than 8 million of this amount ends up in the World Ocean - environmentalists fear that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the water than fish. Therefore, it is so important not only to reduce plastic production, but also to take measures to combat existing problems.

The main task of Ocean Conservancy is to stop the endless stream of debris that enters the ocean and not only pollutes it, but also leads to the death of many marine life, who swallow it out of curiosity or by accident. In addition, the organization's program includes protecting vulnerable species, reducing human impact on the entire ecosystem, and restoring sustainable fisheries.

Campaigns without extensive government support and funding can also produce amazing results and prove that the greatest accomplishments always start small. The large-scale eco-challenge Trashtag, which united thousands of people around the world in 2019, began with one accidentally thrown piece of paper. The founder of the flash mob, American Stephen Reinholde, back in 2015, shared with his blog subscribers a story about how a check flew out of his car window onto the highway, but there was no longer any way to return and raise it.


So Stephen promised himself to collect one hundred pieces of paper during the next trip. This endeavor has evolved into the #Trashtag project, which aims to keep wildlife clean. However, then very few people supported Stephen's initiative, but in 2019, when the flash mob was suddenly mentioned on one of the popular media portals, volunteers from all over the world began to actively join it. They clean up any contaminated area and post before and after photos with the hashtag #Trashtag to demonstrate how amazingly each of us can transform nature.

Mumbai resident Afroz Shah is another prime example of how even one person can influence a situation. In 2015, he wrote a post that he was going to fight the spontaneous dump on Versova Beach, where garbage from all over the area had been dumped over the years. Waste was simply dumped along the coastline - no one carried out any utilization, let alone sorting, and kilometers of garbage rotted on the coast for years.


The smell spread far beyond the landfill and reached residential buildings, flora and fauna suffered: animals either died, being poisoned by inedible or toxic waste, or left their usual habitat, which became unsuitable for habitation - for example, rare olive turtles disappeared from the beach. It was thanks to Afroz Shah and caring people who responded to his call to stop the disaster and return the beach to its original appearance.

At first, it was local residents, fishermen and volunteers who came to the beach every day and manually shoveled tons of garbage, and as the campaign began to gain momentum and publications appeared in the media, the general public, including Bollywood stars, joined the initiative. For two years of active and continuous work, the volunteers removed about 5.5 million tons of waste, completely cleaning the beach and turning it from a poisonous dump into a real oasis and a favorite resting place.

For this contribution to nature conservation, Afroz Shah was awarded the title of "Champion of the Earth" in 2017, but perhaps a much more valuable reward for him was the fact that animals finally returned to the beach: in 2018, for the first time in recent decades, they hatched and survived about 80 olive turtles. The UN has named Afroz Shah's campaign the world's largest beach clean-up project.

Deadline: Save Endangered Species

Olive turtles are far from the only animals affected by human activities. Over the past 50 years, global populations of various species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 60% due to physical extermination, poaching, and habitat destruction. Correcting the mistakes of some people are taken by other people: thanks to their enthusiasm, some species can be saved from complete extinction almost at the last moment.

In 2016, China announced that giant pandas - the nation's favorites and the country's unofficial symbol - have finally moved from endangered to vulnerable. At that time, the population numbered 2,500 animals, and over 40 reserves were opened throughout the country - this was an incredible progress compared to 1998, when there were only 13 special zones for the protection and protection of pandas in all of China, and the animals themselves were on the verge of extinction …

Such results were achieved thanks to a systematic approach: the state introduced tough measures to combat poaching up to the death sentence for killing a panda, initiated a program to relocate residents away from the natural habitat of animals. In parallel, there was an active planting of forests and the creation of reserves - all this made it possible to prevent the complete extinction of the species.


Since 2015, the endangered species status has been removed from one of the subspecies of the North American bear - Ursus americanus luteolus, a baribal living in Louisiana. He was under the threat of extinction, like many other animals, due to uncontrolled extermination. An incident is associated with this species, which subsequently gave the world the famous Teddy teddy bears: in 1902, US President Theodore Roosevelt hunted together with the Governor of Mississippi Andrew Longino, but at the last moment refused to kill the cornered bear.

After this story, toy bears appeared, named after Theodore - "Teddy" - Roosevelt. However, not all hunters rushed to follow the president's example, and by 1992 the number of baribals in Louisiana did not exceed 150 individuals. Only thanks to government regulation and support, as well as a strict system of penalties for poaching, this process was stopped and even achieved, if not fast, but encouraging growth: today about 700 individuals live in the forests of the state.

In the last century, humanity almost exterminated mountain gorillas - despite their impressive size (about 150 cm tall and weighing under 200 kilograms), these giants were defenseless against well-armed poachers and black traders: a gorilla cub costs several thousand dollars on the illegal market. In addition to hunting, deforestation for the export of valuable timber also played a role - the animals gradually lost their habitual habitat, and by 1981 there were only 253 individuals on the African Virunga mountain range.

Only thanks to the introduction of strict control in the territories inhabited by these gorillas (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda), as well as the development of a system of reserves and the organization of daily patrols, has it been possible to stop the extinction of the species. In the 21st century, there was a slow but steady recovery in the population size, and in 2012 there were already about 880 individuals. Today there is a $ 10,000 fine and eight months in prison for killing an animal.

White, or Arabian oryx is an antelope, which, with the help of humans, managed to accomplish a real miracle: to resurrect after complete disappearance in the wild. In 1972, these animals, once inhabiting vast territories from the Sinai Peninsula to Mesopotamia, as well as the Arabian Peninsula, were officially declared extinct in the wild. The blame for everything was hunting and poaching, since tender meat and beautiful skins have made these antelopes desirable prey since ancient times, and in modern history, oryxes were also shot by tourists as entertainment.


It was possible to return the debt to nature and revive the extinct species due to the fact that small groups of individuals remained in private possessions, in captivity - they were taken into the world program for breeding Arabian oryx. In parallel with this, changes began to take place in the Arab countries in relation to hunting and to environmental protection, and already 10 years later, in 1982, the first Arabian oryxes were released again in Oman, in 1983 - in Jordan, and a little later in Saudi Arabia (1990) and the UAE (2007). Small groups were also sent to Israel and Bahrain. Since 2011, the species is not considered endangered: there are about 1000 individuals in the wild.

Scientific approach: modern technologies guard nature

Technological progress allows humanity to improve the quality of life at all possible levels, including using the accumulated scientific potential to protect the environment. Unmanned aerial vehicles today are not just an expensive and fashionable toy, but also irreplaceable assistants in various social spheres, including them used to deliver food and medicine to remote settlements, monitor a fire situation and restore forests.

So, drones are used to scan the area and take photographs - this is necessary in order to select suitable seeds and assess the situation, and the Robin drone is able not only to independently process information on more than 100 thousand trees, but also to plant 1 hectare in 18 minutes. Not far behind is the British project BioCarbon Engineering, which aims to plant 500 billion trees by 2050 to stop deforestation.

The almost fabulous yellow brick road appeared in 2014 in the city of Crommeny, near Amsterdam, where the Dutch company SolaRoad paved the world's first solar-powered bike path. The length of such a technological track is almost 100 meters, overcoming which the cyclist simultaneously generates electricity for street lighting, recharging cars and power supply of houses.


This is due to the fact that sunlight hitting the surface of the walkway is converted into electricity using double-sided panels and special glass. SolaRoad - this is the name of the innovative project - showed amazing results only in the first year of operation: according to estimates, it was able to provide three average Dutch households with electricity.

The state of coastal waters has been monitored by robotic fish in many countries for several years. This latest development of scientists allows you to control the state of the environment, monitor the space, measure the level of acidity and notify about pollution. For example, if somewhere there was a leak of toxic waste or someone dumped chemicals into the water, robots immediately report the incident. In addition, they measure the temperature of the water, which makes it possible to track the dynamics of the growth rate of global warming on the planet.


In 2016, one phenomenal scientific discovery was made not in a laboratory, but in a landfill in Japan, where unusual bacteria were found. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that they are capable of absorbing plastic at an incredible rate. After a series of studies and experiments, scientists were able to synthesize the structure of an existing enzyme that can absorb polyethylene terephthalate (PET) even better than the original.

Biologists plan to further work on the bacterium - according to scientists, it can be adapted for processing other types of plastic, which will reduce emissions and the number of landfills. About how plastic pollution is fought in other countries, what modern methods are used in this fight and what will happen if we lose in this battle - see the film "The History of Plastic", which will be released on April 22 at 20:10 (Moscow time) on Discovery Channel.

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