Rome (Italy). World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June 2023. The date was chosen to commemorate the first United Nations Conference on the environment held in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June 1972. On that occasion the Stockholm Declaration was adopted, which defined the 26 principles on human rights and responsibilities in relation to the environment.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Day, celebrated for the first time in 1973, and promoted by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), to raise awareness on issues of earth protection, promoting an increase in respect for of the planet and a change of habits.
The hashtag of campaign 2023 – #BeatPlasticPollution – wants to stimulate awareness regarding the use of plastic, together with the search for solutions regarding the environmental impact it causes. In fact, more than 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year, half of which is destined to be used only once. Of these, less than 10% is recycled.
From the data of UNEP 2023 an estimated 19-23 million tons end up in lakes, rivers, and seas annually. About 11 million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year, a figure that could triple by 2040. More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by this pollution through ingestion, entanglement, and other hazards.
Furthermore, microplastics – tiny plastic particles up to 5 mm in diameter – end up in food, water, and the air. It is estimated that every person on the planet ingests more than 50,000 plastic particles a year – and many more if you count inhalation. A significant impact is given by single-use plastic thrown into the environment or burned, which damages biodiversity and pollutes every ecosystem, from the tops of the mountains to the ocean floor.
Shifting to a circular economy could reduce the volume of plastic entering the oceans by more than 80% by 2040; reduce the production of virgin plastic by 55%; save governments $70 billion by 2040; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and create 700,000 new jobs, mainly in the Global South.
Caring for integral formation is one of the requests of the XXIV General Chapter of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, which invites us to assume integral ecology, the 7 objectives of Laudato si’, and the Global Educational Pact in the style of the Preventive System as a dimension of life and the educational mission, networking with the Salesian Family, institutions, and educational agencies (Acts GCXXIV n.3).
Accompaniment of young people stimulates creativity and allows them to find new solutions to situations that seem to have no way out. This commits the Educating Communities to spend themselves with daring, resilience, and constancy in the task of educating, raising awareness, and making young people active protagonists in change, without getting discouraged, as Pope Francis invites:
“And yet, all is not lost, because human beings, capable of degrading themselves to the extreme, can also overcome themselves, return to choosing the good and regenerate themselves, beyond any psychological and social conditioning that is imposed on them. They are able to look at themselves honestly, to bring out their disgust, and to take new paths towards true freedom. There are no systems that completely nullify the openness to goodness, truth, and beauty, nor the ability to react, which God continues to encourage from the depths of our hearts. I ask every person in this world not to forget this dignity that no one has the right to take away from them” (Laudato si’ 205).
“From pollution to the solution” is one of the slogans of the 2023 campaign for World Environment Day, as an encouragement to implement initiatives that can involve everyone – personally or as a community – in concrete actions, devising and experimenting with alternative solutions to the use of plastics.
“The goal is not to gather information or satiate our curiosity, but to become painfully aware, dare to transform what happens in the world into personal suffering, and thus recognize what contribution each one can make” (LS 19).