New Study Finds that Plastic Pollution is an Environmental Justice Issue

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

A new UN report suggests that plastic pollution isn’t just a threat to marine life — it’s also an issue of environmental justice. The report, titled Neglected: Environmental Justice Impacts of Plastic Pollution, highlights that poor nations and communities around the world disproportionately suffer the effects of plastic waste. This is especially true as wealthier nations send their plastic waste to their poorer counterparts. 

Report coauthor Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš said in a press release that “Current efforts, limited to managing and decreasing plastic pollution, are inadequate to address the whole scope of problems plastic create.”

Why This Matters: There’s more plastic than ever on the planet right now — between 1950 and 2015, the world produced more than 9 billion tons of plastic, with over 50% of this plastic created in the last 18 years. If plastic use continues to grow at this rate, the world is set to generate 38 billion tons of plastic by 2025, enough to cover every foot of the earth’s coastline with a layer of 100 plastic bags

Plastic use has only increased since the beginning of the pandemic and the report’s authors worry that plastic use was becoming part of a “triple emergency” along with the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

 

The Search for Solutions: The report detailed several solutions that could help this crisis: further research about the health impacts of plastic, monitoring plastic waste, policies that prohibit single-use plastics, and better systems of waste management, recycling, and reuse. 

In March, Congressional leaders reintroduced a bill called the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which would pass sweeping recycling and single-use plastic regulations. The bill, which was originally introduced last year, would implement a nationwide extended producer responsibility (EPR) program, minimum recycled content mandates, a national container deposit system, and single-use plastic bags. It would also implement a three-year pause on issuing permits for new plastic production facilities.

But the UN report authors also emphasized that this global problem should also have global solutions. The authors called for an international treaty that could gradually eliminate plastic pollution and production.

As EcoWatch explained, David Azoulay, the director of the Center for International Environmental Law’s health program who did not help write the report, said its emphasis on human rights could help provide a framework for such a treaty.

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