What is the relationship between deserts and the plastics crisis?

Today is World Environment Day, an occasion observed by the United Nations to raise public awareness and encourage environmental protection. Under the motto “Our land, our future,” this year’s topic centers on land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience. But what exactly is desertification, and how does it connect to the plastics crisis? Together, let’s explore and comprehend this complex issue.

Desertification is the process by which arid and semi-arid regions, commonly referred to as drylands, lose their biological productivity, vegetation cover, and soil fertility due to human or natural activities. Concern over the degradation of these drylands is spreading throughout Central Asia, Africa, and other regions of the world. Various factors, including deforestation, overgrazing, and climate change, contribute to desertification; however, the current global plastics crisis often goes unnoticed as a major contributor.

Plastic emissions are the primary cause of desertification.
Did you know that fossil fuels are the primary source of raw materials for plastics? The most frequent raw materials are coal, natural gas, and crude oil. You now understand.

The extraction, refining, and manufacturing stages of the plastic production process discharge greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These emissions greatly exacerbate the climate catastrophe.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified irregular weather patterns caused by climate change as a major driver of desertification in drylands, including extraordinary temperature rises and altered precipitation patterns that worsen land degradation.

Not only does plastic pollution occur throughout the manufacturing process, but it also occurs during the treatment of plastic trash. Landfills burn and decompose plastics, releasing dangerous greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This increases the greenhouse effect and causes more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, and other weather events that encourage desertification.

Silent degraders of soil health: plastics
Plastics have an impact on the climate, but they also directly contaminate soil, leading to desertification. Microplastics, or broken-down plastic bits smaller than five millimeters, seep into the soil and change its chemical and physical composition.

Microplastics in soil have an impact on its structure by increasing porosity, which lowers the soil’s ability to retain water and support plant life—a vital component of soil stability and erosion prevention, according to a study.

Furthermore, microplastics absorb and transport harmful pollutants, upsetting the soil’s natural life and harming insects and microorganisms that are critical to its fertility and health. Microplastics accelerate desertification by physically disrupting and chemically polluting soils, making them more vulnerable to erosive forces from wind and water.

What should we do in light of the aforementioned facts?
Addressing the interrelated issues of desertification and plastic pollution requires a multifaceted strategy. Reducing plastic manufacturing is the main solution; by 2040, Greenpeace wants to see at least a 75% decrease in plastic output. Reducing the production of plastic is an important step. Boosting spending, encouraging refill and reuse programs, and using alternate circular materials can all help to reduce the amount of new plastic generated.

Enhancing waste management procedures is also necessary to stop plastic pollution from getting into the soil. This includes better collection methods and public awareness initiatives to reduce plastic consumption and promote appropriate disposal.

Global collaboration and comprehensive environmental regulations can foster a more sustainable future by minimizing the negative effects of plastics on the climate and soil health. The United Nations is currently in the midst of negotiating the Global Plastics Treaty, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to permanently stop the plastic age. We require assistance in exerting pressure on our leaders to negotiate a robust Global Plastics Treaty that will minimize plastic output without compromising in advance of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee’s fifth session, which will take place in South Korea in November.

In conclusion, only a few people are aware of the close connections between the plastics crisis and desertification. We can significantly contribute to soil preservation, climate change mitigation, and the prevention of further desertification by recognizing and addressing the ways that pollution and plastic manufacture contribute to land degradation.