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UN Special Rapporteurs: ‘Toxic tidal wave’ of plastic pollution putting human rights at risk

Updated: Jan 11

The growing menace of plastic pollution has triggered an urgent appeal from UN Special Rapporteurs, David R. Boyd and Marcos Orellana. With plastic production soaring to a staggering 400 million tonnes annually, the entire life cycle of plastics is shown to be detrimental to human rights and the environment. Negotiations are currently underway for an international treaty to combat this pressing global issue.

The Toxic Tidal Wave

Boyd and Orellana highlighted the alarming impact of plastic on human rights, particularly the right to a healthy environment, life, health, food, water, and an adequate standard of living. Plastic production releases hazardous substances and is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Moreover, plastics themselves contain toxic chemicals, posing risks to both humans and nature. An astounding 85% of single-use plastics end up in landfills or are dumped in the environment, while incineration and recycling exacerbate the problem. Plastics and microplastics, along with their hazardous contents, are found in the food we consume, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

Marginalized Communities Under Threat

The UN experts pointed out that marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by plastic-related pollution and waste. These groups often reside in "sacrifice zones," near facilities such as open-pit mines, petroleum refineries, steel plants, and coal-fired power stations. The hazardous impact of plastic pollution on these communities intensifies environmental injustices.

The Hidden Impact on Climate Change

The detrimental effects of plastic pollution on climate change are often overlooked. Marine ecosystems are hindered in their ability to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere due to plastic particles present in oceans. This underscores the gravity of the situation, urging immediate action.

Advancements in Treaty Negotiations

Boyd and Orellana welcomed the progress towards an internationally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution, particularly in marine environments. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) forecasts that the volume of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could escalate to 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040. Negotiations are currently underway in Paris, building upon the initial session held in Uruguay last year. The goal is to finalize the treaty by 2024.

A Call for Comprehensive Solutions

The UN Special Rapporteurs assert that mere recycling is inadequate in solving this crisis. Instead, they advocate for comprehensive solutions that involve elimination, reduction, and a full life-cycle approach to plastic management. Transparency and a just transition are also essential components in finding a successful resolution to this escalating problem.

Plastic pollution has emerged as a global threat to both human rights and the environment, impacting marginalized communities and contributing to climate change. As negotiations for an international treaty continue, the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to combat plastic pollution becomes increasingly evident. The international community must act swiftly and collectively to protect the planet and secure a sustainable future for generations to come.



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