Natural resources (water, soil, minerals, etc.) are being depleted faster than ever before in an effort to meet the demands of an ever-growing global population. According to an estimate by the United Nations, the global population is expected to reach approximately 9.6 billion by 2050 (from the current 7 billion).
This means that if we were to maintain the current consumption pattern we have for our living requirements, we would need the natural resources from two more planets like earth to accommodate the needs of the additional 2.6 billion people. Such an endeavor is beyond our imagination and the adverse effects of our consumption have already started to negatively impact nature and the environment.
To understand the urgency of the situation, one only needs to consider that there is less than 3% of global freshwater to utilize for needs like drinking, cooking, washing or even for running industrial machinery (UN, 2018). However, the accessible fresh water on which we rely for these purposes is only about 0.5%; the remaining 2.5% is found in the form of ice in Antarctica, the Arctic, and glaciers.
Thus, we are consuming fresh water faster than nature can restore it. An increase in global population would mean that there are more people to nurture, but less fresh water to access, and we need not forget that even today, more than a billion people do not have access to fresh water.
Furthermore, our limited freshwater resources are being polluted. For instance, we are presently living in the age of plastic. The widespread consumption of plastic is posing a great threat to the freshwater ecosystem, such as rivers and lakes. Research has found that about 4 million tonnes of plastic waste passes through river water every year globally (GrrlScientist, 2018).
Another study found that billions of people worldwide are drinking water contaminated with plastic fibers (Carrington, 2017). In this study, tap water samples were collected from more than a dozen countries and taken to laboratories for analysis. The results showed that 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers. Household wells in Indonesia were found to be polluted with plastic fibers. In Lebanon, the natural spring water was found to be contaminated as well.
Even if we leave aside the plastic industry, we can find many more examples of industries harming freshwater resources. The leather industry, for instance, uses various harmful chemicals that cause major damage and pollution to fresh water. In the traditional leather tanning process, chromium salts are used, which are tenacious and catastrophic for water and the environment.
The aforementioned require us to explore more sustainable production and consumption practices to protect our natural resources and the environment. The United Nations developed 17 global goals to address these environmental challenges in 2015, including environmental degradation (UN, 2018). The goals aim to transform the world and help to achieve a more sustainable future for the inhabitants of our planet.
These goals are broadly known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One such goal (specifically Goal 12) aims to ensure responsible consumption and production patterns by transforming the way we produce and consume goods and resources. The aim of this goal is to achieve global economic prosperity in such ways that will reduce our ecological footprint and keep our world safe from environmental degradation, faster depletion of natural resources and climate change. This can be enforced by requiring companies to adopt more sustainable production practices.
There is a growing concern of unsustainable consumption and environmental degradation around the world. Hence, we are starting to observe increasing numbers of government, business and social initiatives to protect natural resources and our environment. For example, the European Union decided to ban single-use plastic in an attempt to reduce plastic contamination (Shoot, 2018). A number of start-ups are also offering environmentally friendly services and products around the world.
The Swedish start-up The Poli introduced Jute, a sustainable natural fiber, which is used to make fashionable tote bags and backpacks, while at the same time creating awareness about sustainable consumption and our environment among consumers. Additionally, it offers leather bags produced with a chromium-free vegetable tanning procedure, which is a more sustainable leather production procedure and can reduce resource consumption, environmental degradation and pollution of soil, water and air. The mission of the start-up reflects the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 12.
More and more start-ups are taking initiative by following the SDGs. However, these government, international organization and business initiatives will be successful only if consumers become more aware and accountable for their actions. By engaging producers, final consumers as well as other stakeholders, we will possibly be able to ensure a sustainable lifestyle for planet earth.
We only have one planet with limited resources. The need to implement sustainable practices is more urgent than ever; we need to explore and enforce innovative and environmentally friendly initiatives and promote a sustainable consumption pattern that will aim to reduce overall resource consumption, generation of waste and adverse environmental impacts. In this way, we might be able to ensure the quality of life for many generations to come.
Shoot, B., 2018. EU parliament votes to ban single-use plastics, including plates, cutlery and straws.
Available at http://fortune.com/2018/10/24/eu-ban-single-use-plastic-pollution/.
Carrington, D., 2017. Plastic fibers found in tap water around the world, study reveals.
Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tapwater-around-world-study-reveals. Accessed December 24, 2018.
Ayer, D. and Merino, V., 2018. The invisible plastic particle in our drinking water. Available at
https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/23/the-invisible-plastic-particles-in-our-drinking-water/ Accessed December 28, 2018.
GrrlScientist, 2018. Microplastics contaminate half of all freshwater insects, study shows.
Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2018/09/29/microplastics-contaminatehalf-of-all-freshwater-insects-study-shows. Accessed December 29, 2018.
United Nations, 2018. About the sustainable development goals.
https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/ Accessed December 27, 2018.
United Nations, 2018. Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
December 27, 2018.