Every day, India churns out 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste, including straws, cutlery, and other single-use items. Much of that plastic ends up languishing in landfills or worse, clogging India’s streets, rivers and beaches—a situation that long bothered university student Annanya Joshi. So, she launched a grassroots effort to encourage restaurants and shops at her school, Banasthali Vidyapeeth University, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, north-western of the country, to ditch plastic utensils and bags.
Joshi is a member of the Tide Turners Plastic Challenge, a global youth movement designed to fight plastic pollution. The programme, which has received funding from the UK government, is open to students from grade school to college and provides young people with the tools they need both to reduce their own plastic footprints and to convince their communities to do the same.
“Annanya’s work shows the impact of Tide Turners and why it is so important to equip young people to address marine plastic pollution in their communities. It has been a massive success in India, where it has created an army of youth who are addressing the scourge of plastic pollution,” says Gayatri Raghwa, who oversees Tide Turners for UNEP in India.
Since it launched in June 2019, about 100,000 youth in India have taken part in the Tide Turners curriculum with the World Wildlife Fund, Centre for Environment Education and Million Sparks Foundation being major partners in pushing this out across the country. Now it is set to scale even further with the Government of India committing to share Tide Turners across their 167,000 Eco-Schools in the country.
“We will only be to turn the tide on plastic pollution if we change our habits and use our voice to influence change. This curriculum is a leadership programme that we hope will open the door for deeper environmental action. We are excited to see how empowered youth leadership can lead to broader change across societies”, says Sam Barratt, Chief of UNEP’s Youth, Education and Advocacy Unit.
Since the 1950s, the world has generated 9 billion tonnes of plastic, only nine per cent of which has been recycled. The majority of plastic waste ends up in landfills, dumps or in the environment. Some plastics take thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil, clogging sewers, harming marine life, polluting the air, and entering the food system.
The issue is also a priority for the World Scouts Association Movement, the World Associations of Girl Guides and Scouts and Junior Achievement – founding partners of the Tide Turners initiative. Since 2019, scouts and guides have been able to earn a badge for combating plastic pollution. So far, more than 165,000 young people have begun work towards that goal in 22 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
“Making a difference for plastic pollution requires us all to take small steps in our daily lives,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary General of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. “That is why we’re engaging our global community of scouts to take action locally.”
To build on Tide Turners, the Scouts also recently introduced a new Earth Tribe programme, which encourages young people to address environmental issues they see in their communities, including plastic pollution.