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A Child Explores "Recycling Labyrinth" Art Installation at U.N. Office Geneva
United States Mission Geneva
Environment

'Plastic' Is the Children's Word of the Year

When Oxford Dictionaries announced that 2017’s word of the year was “youthquake”, many were perplexed. Not even the so-called youth knew what it actually meant.

But the children’s word of the year is different —  because it actually comes from, you know, young people. It doesn’t have a hashtag, it has nothing to do with "Love Island" (gasp!), and it stands proudly as evidence that the kids are alright after all.

The 2018 children’s word of the year is "plastic."

Take Action: Call on Governments to Say 'No' to Single-Use Plastics

Oxford University Press took a close look at 134,790 short stories submitted by 5 to 13-year-olds in a writing competition launched by the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show, and the word “plastic” was used more than any other — 3,359 times to be exact.

It’s a 100% increase from last year, with titles like “The Evil Mr Plastic” among 2018’s entries. And if you’re frustrated by the political efforts fighting plastic pollution, then look no further than the imagination of one 13-year-old author, who wrote a story featuring an epic “special Reverse-o-matic Pollutinator Ray Gun.”

We might need it if we’re going to take on the 380 million tonnes of plastic that get created every single year. And as for the 8 million tonnes that enter the ocean annually, to paraphrase “Jaws”, we’re gonna need a bigger ray gun.

It’s not the only term catching fire in the wonderbrains of the future; words like “recycle” and “recycling” also saw a 100% increase, along with increased usage of “packaging”, “pollution”, “plastic bottle”, “plastic bag”, and “plastic waste”, according to the BBC.

It’s almost like they’re trying to tell us something.

Read More: 16 Times Countries and Cities Have Banned Single-Use Plastics

"Children have shown they are acutely aware of the impact plastic has on our environment and how it will affect their own future,” said Vineeta Gupta, head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

Last year the children’s word of the year was “Trump”, who still remains the most mentioned real figure across all the stories. In 2016 the word “refugee” was the most popular, while other terms to break through this year include “Korea”, “Grenfell Tower”, and “Brexit” — although the BBC report was quick to point out that the latter was used primarily to refer to a “boring topic of conversation.” Take that, patriotism!

The announcement came in the same week that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged that his country will completely eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. India is the fastest growing economy in the world, and home to 1.3 billion people. The move was described by the Guardian as the “most ambitious” yet against global plastic pollution.

It follows the UN’s largest report on plastic pollution to date, published on Tuesday. It confirmed the ubiquitous awareness of the problem — and the action taking place all over the world to combat it. While African countries like Kenya and Rwanda have already banned plastic bags, the report also revealed that the Galapagos is set to ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam, and China will insist on biodegradable bags.

However, the report concluded that far more still must be done to stop plastic entering oceans and rivers.

Related Stories Dec. 15, 2017 ‘Youthquake’ Is the Word of the Year, But What Does It Mean? Dec. 15, 2017 This Is What 2017 Looked Like — And It Was a Tragic and Beautiful Year Dec. 19, 2016 7 Words That Made 2016 So Very 2016

British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously pledged to end “avoidable plastic waste” by 2042 — a welcome promise, but one that was criticised by campaigners as “ditheringly, dangerously slow.” Yet there has still been important stride forwards: microbeads have finally been banned, and after a consultation later this year, the government might soon ban plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds.

Moreover, political pressure from 200 MPs — after supermarket chain Iceland pledged to be totally plastic free by 2023 — led to dozens of companies signing the UK Plastics Pact, a voluntary agreement to make all plastic recyclable or compostable and eliminate unnecessary single-use packaging. However, critics have argued that it’s “not enough,” as there’s no legal guarantee that targets will actually be met.

And if we don’t act now? Well, in the words of one eight-year-old author, the world might soon witness a “blanket of plastic covering the ocean.”

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on improving life on land and life below water, and on creating sustainable cities and communities. You can join us by taking action on these issues here.