by Xinhua writer Wang Jiangang
UNITED NATIONS, June 1 (Xinhua) -- When diners walk into the United Nations cafeterias at the UN headquarters in New York these days, they will notice a "minor change": plastic knives, forks and spoons, which used to be utilized once and discarded as trash, have been replaced with recyclable stainless steel knives and forks.
On the wall, diners will also notice a poster: "UNHQ Cafes are ZERO WASTE TO LANDFILL: Help us reduce waste, recycle and compost more."
Of late, the Security Council and other major UN agencies, as usual, have been engaged in intensive discussions or consultations on loads of imperative issues concerning international peace, security and development, sometimes with fierce quarrelling, UN departments related, however, have never forgotten to deal with some "minor issues."
Around 20 days ago, some UN staffers sighted another "small difference" in the cafe rooms inside the UN building: plastic lids for paper cups, which used to be a normal scene, had been taken place by paper ones that are fully compostable.
As a matter of fact, these "insignificant changes" are part of the UN's unremitting endeavor to introduce healthy and sustainable life and consumption styles into the daily lives of all people across the world.
"The challenge of plastics is one that spans the entire globe...every region, every ocean, every environment is impacted. We must work on this together," the President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, said on April 30, when joining Molwyn Joseph, Environment Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN, to welcome Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas, a noted American singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer and actress, as a headliner at the June 1 "Play it Out" concert aimed to arouse people's awareness of tackling the hazard of plastic pollution.
As earlier as the end of last year, Espinosa announced the launch of a global anti-plastic pollution initiative at the UN headquarters, aiming to reduce plastic waste within the UN system, promote cooperation between UN member states and UN agencies, and raise public awareness around the world.
According to alarming statistics, the annual consumption of plastic bags worldwide reaches 500 billion; 1 million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute; most of the plastic is discarded in the natural environment and ends up in the oceans. Every year, it is estimated that at least 8 million tons of plastic products are spilled into the oceans, which is equivalent to one truckload of plastic waste being dumped into the oceans every second.
In addition, plastic pollution kills 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. If the current situation remains unchecked, the weight of plastic waste in the oceans will exceed that of fish by 2050.
What's more, scientists say, the toxic and harmful substances contained in the microplastic particles, and the toxic and harmful substances adsorbed in the water, will accumulate through the food chain, and may eventually enter the human body and endanger people's health.
"We have all seen the images of turtles choking on straws, or birds wrapped in plastic, and it's devastating," noted Douglas. "But these images, while emotional, don't capture how massive this problem really is."
The UN 2030 Agenda, after years of publicity, has been now known to most people worldwide.
The 12th goal among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 2030 Agenda is "responsible consumption and production."
"Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles," the UN warns.
Therefore, the UN suggests that all people can help reduce waste through rational shopping, ceasing to dump food unmindfully, reducing the consumption of plastic by using reusable bags, rejecting plastic straws, and recycling plastic bottles.
Zhou Tinghua, a young female staffer working at the UN secretary-general's office, told Xinhua about how she and her peers are managing to lead an environment-friendly life.
On one weekend day, Zhou and several colleagues, who live in the same neighborhood, saw a new workmate carrying several plastic bags full of food. They immediately struck up a conversation with the new colleague and discouraged her from using plastic bags in the future.
They said almost with one voice: "Let's not use plastic bags and set a good example for others."
While making every effort to achieve the goal of minimizing the use of plastic products, the UN is also trying all means possible to cut costs, which is surely another way to protect the planet.
The UN announced on April 9 that it started going partially paperless on the same say by stop providing hard copies of press releases to reporters.
"Starting today, the News and Media Division of the Department of Global Communications (DGC) will no longer print hard copies of press releases," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said at the daily news briefing.
"This is part of our ongoing effort to save paper, to go paperless and to save money," he said.
Ever since the announcement, people have never seen hard-copy press releases appear on the pigeonholes standing in the second-floor corridor of the UN Secretariat Building.
The decades-long practice that the UN provides journalists with daily hard-copy press releases in Chinese, English, Russian, French, Afghan and western languages has become history.
Dujarric didn't disclose how much would be saved annually for the UN by doing so, but many were convinced that the move by the UN, which is widely known for its reputation of "a mountain of paperwork and a sea of meetings," will finally contribute to the profit losses of many paper mills and printer factories.
Zhou, however, viewed this from another perspective. "You should be thinking differently. Many more trees will survive and continue to grow happily, and large tracts of land will never be polluted by used cartridges, thanks to the paperless actions taken by both the UN and many other countries."
"Frugality is becoming popular among UN staffers," Zhou said, with a happy smile.
"Nowadays, anyone who prints documents only on one side of the printing paper, he or she will be criticized," she added.
"This planet does not only belong to the people who are inhabiting on it, but belongs to indefinite future generations. I hope our descendants will not blame us for discarding too much plastic trash, nor hold us responsible for cutting too many trees."
"We should leave them an even more beautiful planet. Let's act now!" she said.