This week sees World Environment Day, and the theme for 2023 is Beat Plastic Pollution. As a species, we are addicted to plastic - we produce around 430 million tonnes of plastic per year, two-thirds of which are short lived, throwaway items. These pieces of plastic end up in streams, rivers and the ocean, where they not only endanger wildlife and their habitats, but they break down into tiny fragments of microplastic that eventually end up in soil, water supplies and the food chain, where the end destination is our bodies.
It can feel overwhelming to think about fixing the problem - it is a global issue, and requires the involvement and support of governments to ultimately get a handle on it. Being witness to the damage being done to the environment, and the wider climate crisis as a whole, can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, fear, grief and hopelessness, and climate change anxiety is increasing impacting on mental health.
So, how can we make a difference? How can we help #beatplasticpollution and be more sustainable, and how does that impact on our wellbeing?
Individual actions are the foundation to making a difference. It might seem like a drop in the ocean to try to reduce your own plastic consumption, but if everybody did something, the wave of change that would result would be vast. Some things you can try include:
take your own plastic bags to the supermarket
avoid single-use plastic wherever possible
do a beach clean or litter pick (either join an organised one or do your own!)
support charities that work to solve plastic pollution
buy items with warranties that allow for repair and recycle responsibly
repurpose or repair items rather than throwing them away
make your voice heard - talk to your local politicians, and speak out on social media
Reduce | Reuse | Recycle
But how do these small changes impact on mental health? As it happens, doing something good tends to make us feel good. Making the decision to do something positive can be a huge boost to self-esteem, giving you a real injection of confidence and motivation. Being part of a movement can generate the same emotions, as well as providing a sense of belonging, purpose and empowerment, all of which can act as a distraction to other things going on in your life.
It can also help connect you to the local community - getting involved in a litter pick in your town can bring you together with like-minded people who also want to make a difference to their environment. Being outside can also have a therapeutic, calming effect.
And it's not just anxiety about the environment that this can help with - being part of a wider movement, spending time in nature and meeting new people can help improve all kinds of mental health challenges, including depression, OCD, low self-esteem, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and loneliness, to name a few.
So don't give up hope! Progress is being made, and every little action makes a difference, so get out there, do your bit and improve not only the state of the planet but also your mental wellbeing.