UN Environment calls for global action on plastic pollution


UN Environment has released a report outlining the threat that single-use plastic represents to the global environment and the initiatives across the world that are being developed to control plastic pollution.

The report, Single-Use Plastics: a Roadmap for Sustainability, was released to coincide with World Environment Day, June 5.

It identifies the most common single-use plastics found in the environment as, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam take-away containers.

The report highlights the wide range of damaging impacts that plastics have on the environment.

“Plastic bags can block waterways and exacerbate natural disasters. By clogging sewers and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, plastic bags can increase the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria.

“High concentrations of plastic materials, particularly plastic bags, have been found blocking the airways and stomachs of hundreds of species. Plastic bags are often ingested by turtles and dolphins who mistake them for food.

“There is evidence that the toxic chemicals added during the manufacture of plastic transfer to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain. Styrofoam products, which contain carcinogenic chemicals like styrene and benzene, are highly toxic if ingested, damaging the nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs. The toxins in Styrofoam containers can leach into food and drinks.

“In poor countries, plastic waste is often burned for heat or cooking, exposing people to toxic emissions. Disposing of plastic waste by burning it in open-air pits releases harmful gases like furan and dioxin.”

The report calls for governments to “improve waste management practices and introduce financial incentives to change the habits of consumers, retailers and manufacturers, enacting strong policies that push for a more circular model of design and production of plastics.

“They must finance more research and development of alternative materials, raise awareness among consumers, fund innovation, ensure plastic products are properly labelled and carefully weigh possible solutions to the current crisis.”

The report sets out ten steps that governments can take, based on the experiences of 60 countries around the world, to tackle the plastic pollution problem.

The report is available here