Earth Day 2024: How nature-based projects can help mitigate the plastic burden on the planet

This year's global Earth Day theme, "Planet vs. Plastics," underscores a critical challenge facing our planet - plastic pollution.

Faith Sayo

Faith Sayo

09 Apr, 2024

Earth Day 2024: How nature-based projects can help mitigate the plastic burden on the planet

Earth Day,

which falls on April 22nd every year, is a time to celebrate our planet and recommit to protecting it for a sustainable future. It is also a time for businesses to showcase how they have contributed to sustainability efforts.

This year's

global Earth Day theme

, "Planet vs. Plastics," underscores a critical challenge facing our planet. We're at a crossroads – will plastic pollution and manufacturing continue to choke our ecosystems and fuel climate change? Or can we forge a path towards a plastic-free future?

Let's explore how we, as individuals and businesses, can transition towards a world that is free from the negative impacts of plastic.

The impact of plastic use on nature

The impact of plastic use on nature

Over the years, plastic has become a major environmental concern. Its impact is a double-edged sword, harming our planet through widespread pollution and accelerating climate change. 

Let's have a look at the cost of plastic dependence:

Climate change

Plastic production relies heavily on fossil fuels, like oil and gas. Extracting and refining these fuels releases greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming. 

According to the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

, the plastic lifecycle (production, use, and disposal) was responsible for releasing 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2019, accounting for 3.7% of global emissions. This number is projected to more than double by 2060 if we don't change course.


Burning plastic waste as a disposal method releases harmful pollutants and additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Our throwaway plastic culture has resulted in a global pollution crisis. An

estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans

each year. This plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments, microplastics, contaminating our water sources, harming wildlife, and even entering the food chain.

Plastic pollution also disrupts natural ecosystems, especially marine life. Animals become entangled in plastic debris, they also mistake plastic for food, and suffer from internal blockages and poisoning. 

Lastly, only a small percentage of plastic waste gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, taking hundreds of years to decompose and leaching harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater.

Sustainable alternatives to plastic

Innovative alternatives to plastic

There are innovative and sustainable alternatives to plastic that are emerging, offering eco-friendly options for various applications.

Here are some promising materials paving the way for a plastic-free future:

Biodegradable products

Biodegradable materials decompose naturally through the action of microorganisms, unlike plastic which can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Here is how they are being implemented:

  • Plant-based packaging: Many companies are now using packaging made from plant-based materials like corn starch, cellulose, sugarcane, or bamboo. These alternatives decompose naturally, reducing landfill waste and microplastic pollution. While their applications are still evolving, they show promise for packaging, utensils, and even textiles.

  • Natural fibres like seaweed, bamboo, hemp, and cotton can be used to create reusable bags, containers, and even clothing. These alternatives are not only plastic-free but also often require less water and pesticides to grow compared to traditional materials like cotton.

  • Mycelium, the root network of fungi, is being explored for its potential as a sustainable building material, packaging option, and even leather alternative. This rapidly renewable resource offers exciting possibilities for a future free from plastic.

  • Compostable cutlery: Compostable utensils made from corn starch for bioplastic decompose in commercial composting facilities, minimising their environmental impact.

  • Microbial bioplastics: Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are a class of bioplastics produced by microorganisms using fermentation. These versatile bioplastics are not only biodegradable but also compostable in industrial settings, making them a sustainable choice for a variety of products.

  • Biodegradable cleaning products: Some companies even offer cleaning products in dissolvable pods that eliminate plastic packaging.

Refill and reuse 

Reusability is one of the core principles behind a sustainable lifestyle. People are opting for products designed for multiple uses, reducing waste and resource consumption.

The rise of refillable packaging systems allows consumers to purchase products like household cleaners, detergents, and even personal care items in bulk containers, reducing the need for single-use plastic bottles and containers. 

Additionally, some companies are offering eco-friendly alternatives with refillable packaging or concentrated formulas that require less plastic per use. 

Redesigning packaging systems

Moving beyond individual product choices, these initiatives tackle plastic waste at the source by offering alternative methods.

For example, product designers are rethinking single-use plastic items, creating products designed for multiple uses or easier disassembly and recycling. This shift towards a more

circular economy

can significantly reduce plastic waste.

Additionally, some stores are embracing package-free shopping options. Customers have to bring their own containers to bulk stores and refill stations to avoid unnecessary packaging.

Also, online shopping often generates mountains of plastic packaging.  Some online retailers now offer reusable packaging options that are collected and returned for reuse.

Finally, as a consumer, your purchasing power speaks volumes. Supporting businesses that offer products with minimal or plastic-free packaging is a powerful way to reduce plastic waste at the source.

Nature-based solutions build healthy ecosystems to fight climate change and plastic pollution

Nature-based solutions build healthy ecosystems to fight climate change and plastic pollution

The fight against plastic pollution requires different approaches. While reducing plastic use is important, we can also leverage the power of nature to combat this environmental crisis. 

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) provide conservation, restoration, and management activities that utilise natural processes to address environmental challenges. In the context of plastic pollution, NbS like forest restoration offer a powerful tool for building a healthier planet, better equipped to deal with plastic debris.

Earth has a remarkable defence system against pollution. Healthy ecosystems like forests, mangroves, and wetlands act as filters, playing an important role in preventing plastic from entering our oceans and safeguarding water quality. 

For instance, forests absorb rainwater and filter out pollutants before they reach waterways.  Tree roots also stabilise soil, preventing erosion that can carry plastic debris into rivers and ultimately the ocean.

Mangroves’ intricate root systems trap plastic waste flowing from land, preventing it from reaching the ocean. Mangroves also filter pollutants and sediments from water, improving its quality.

Finally, wetlands, including marshes, swamps, and bogs, act as natural filters for water. The vegetation in these areas slows water flow, allowing pollutants and sediment to settle out before the water reaches rivers and oceans. Healthy wetlands can also absorb excess nutrients, preventing harmful algal blooms that can disrupt marine ecosystems.

The loss and degradation of these vital ecosystems have a ripple effect, increasing plastic pollution in our oceans. By protecting and restoring these natural filters, we can significantly improve water quality and prevent plastic from entering our marine environments.

What are the long-term benefits of a plastic-free future?

Investing in a plastic-free future requires an initial effort, but the long-term benefits for businesses and the planet are undeniable. Companies that embrace this shift will be well-positioned for success in a sustainable future, while contributing to a healthier and more resilient planet.

Ultimately, investing in a plastic-free future is a win-win for both businesses and the planet. Here's a breakdown of these benefits:

Benefits for businesses include:

  • Cost saving: Transitioning away from single-use plastics can lead to cost reductions. Businesses can save on the purchase of these materials, waste disposal fees, and potential fines associated with plastic pollution regulations.

  • Brand reputation: Consumers are increasingly becoming environmentally conscious. By embracing sustainable practices and reducing plastic use, businesses can build a strong brand reputation as an eco-friendly leader. This can attract new customers and improve brand loyalty. A commitment to a plastic-free future can also boost employee morale and attract top talent who value environmental responsibility.

  • Innovation: The shift away from plastic requires innovation. Businesses that invest in sustainable alternatives can gain a competitive edge by developing new products and packaging solutions that are both functional and environmentally friendly.

  • Future-proofing: Regulations on plastic use are likely to become stricter in the future. By taking proactive steps now, businesses can avoid being caught off guard by future legislation and ensure compliance.

Beyond business, the planet will also see benefits:

  • Reduced plastic pollution: Plastic pollution is a major environmental threat, harming wildlife and ecosystems. Investing in a plastic-free future helps to reduce plastic entering landfills and oceans, leading to a healthier planet.

  • Biodiversity conservation: Plastic pollution poses a danger to various species, from entanglement to microplastics entering the food chain. A plastic-free future creates a cleaner environment for a wider variety of living organisms to thrive.

  • Ocean health: Our oceans are especially vulnerable to plastic pollution. Reducing plastic use protects marine ecosystems and the vital services they provide, such as fish stocks and climate regulation.

  • Resource conservation: The production of plastic uses up valuable resources like fossil fuels. Moving away from plastic encourages resource efficiency and reduces our reliance on non-renewable sources.

  • Public health: Some research suggests potential health risks associated with plastic exposure. Reducing plastic use can lead to a healthier environment for all.

Mangroves help in filtration and prevent plastic pollution

Actionable steps for how businesses can reduce their plastic footprint 

Plastic pollution

is a pressing environmental issue, but businesses can make a significant difference by reducing their plastic footprint. Here are some actionable tips to help you get started:

Step 1: Audit and identify

Start by conducting a plastic audit to identify all single-use and excess plastic packaging used in your operations.

Step 2: Eliminate & substitute

You can then eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics wherever possible by exploring sustainable alternatives like paper, cardboard, compostable materials, or reusable options.

Step 3: Redesign & rethink

Consider product redesign to minimise plastic packaging or eliminate it altogether. You can also encourage your customers to participate in refill programs or offer reusable options for products.

Step 4: Educate & empower

Raise awareness among employees and customers about plastic pollution and its impact. Remember to also encourage responsible plastic disposal practices through clear signage and waste management strategies.

Step 5: Support nature-based solutions

Earthly understands that businesses need support during their sustainability journey. When you develop your long-term plastic reduction strategy, we can help you achieve long-term impact. 

Partnering with a nature-based solution provider,

like Earthly, gives you an opportunity to invest in nature-based solutions like forest restoration, wetland protection, or regenerative agriculture.

We will guide you in selecting projects that align with your sustainability goals and contribute to healthier ecosystems. By contributing to these NbS projects, you can make an immediate impact on the health of our planet, empowering nature to become more resilient to plastic pollution and climate change.

Together, we can create a future where businesses succeed alongside a healthy planet, free from plastic burden.