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At some stage we have all been nudged to join a local beach clean-up, participate in a planting day or even turn off the lights for an hour, but what difference does it make?

A lot of us will be asking this, especially when we visit the beach that we just cleaned up, only to see more plastic pollution. Why sit in an hour of darkness when industries continue 24/7 and 1.4 billion vehicles continue to emit carbon while driving?

Participating in an environmental campaign is more than just the short-term benefits or positive impact that it creates through the event, it should be about the ongoing, lasting change in behaviour that eventually leads to a more sustainable way of living.

Global Earth Day, on 22 April 2023, is one of these public environmental campaigns, in fact, it is one of the largest. Since 2010, global campaigns for Earth Day planted more than 100 million trees in 32 countries, 36 million people in 169 countries participated in clean-ups, and through various forms of media Earth Day related content garnered 9.9 billion impressions from readers/viewers/listeners globally. Since the first Earth Day campaign in 1970 these statistics have grown exponentially year-on-year, signalling a rapid increase in awareness towards these pertinent environmental and sustainability issues.

Ask the average citizen nowadays to explain the impact of climate change and you are bound to get a more informed answer than you would have 10 years ago. Access to information, technology and community is empowering citizens to live more sustainably and to take action against things like single use plastics, carbon emissions and waste. It is this widespread ‘conscious consumerism’ that is driving big change in industries, such as retail, agriculture and production. This level of change is also being prioritised on a government level.

Within the last five years in South Africa, some of the world’s most progressive environmental law has been drafted and implemented. By 2027, the South African government is aiming to divert all organic waste from landfills where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas and leachate, a groundwater pollutant. Instead of sending organic waste to landfill, we can repurpose this waste stream as compost or biogas. This repurposing model is known as the circular economy and there is a huge drive in South Africa to implement this across our waste management system. Within the plastic industry, product producers have to comply with extended-producer responsibility regulations, that state that products and packaging needs to be designed to improve recyclability.

Along with waste laws, South Africa has implemented a carbon tax regulation in 2019, making emission heavy industries liable to pay a tax on emissions. Companies can also buy carbon credits by investing in a carbon credit project. This is usually some form of environmental or social initiative that has registered to receive funding support. Carbon tax regulations and the need to acquire carbon credits has sparked a boom in the carbon credit market in South Africa.

While industry and government are increasing their efforts to develop a more sustainable economy, citizens are also making a huge impact through environmental days like World Clean-up Day. According to the most recent statistics, in 2021 on World Clean-up Day, 849 321 plastic bottles were collected globally, 304 337 glass bottles, over one million cigarette butts, and 5.5 million pounds of waste removed from coastlines.

The amount of cigarette butts equals the distance of the Panama Canal and the weight of total trash picked up is equivalent to 186 buses.

It is also the lasting impact that these campaigns have that make them critically important. Following various global clean-up campaigns more than 1.3 billion people have pledged to eliminate single use plastics from their lifestyle. The year-on-year market growth for recycled or repurposed material is growing as consumers are prioritising this as a purchasing decision.

The Global Earth Challenge is a mobile app fuelling the world’s largest citizen science effort. It lets you gather important scientific data around you and has two elements for you to measure, air quality and plastic pollution. Without leaving home, millions of users can record the quality of the air outside their window. Users can take readings throughout the day to track how human activity and weather patterns change the air we breathe. Each reading will be added to a global database of knowledge and help climate scientists understand how climate change and global warming is progressing.

Never doubt the impact that a single individual has the potential to make. As a team at formula D_ , we aim to use our design strengths to communicate the importance of pertinent environmental and climate issues. In educating our audiences within museums and science centres, we can hopefully spark necessary changes in behaviour.