The growing crisis of plastic pollution has threatened vulnerable communities of their health and livelihoods, says a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report launched in Nairobi on Tuesday.
According to the report titled “Neglected: Environmental Justice Impacts of Plastic Pollution,” haphazard disposal of nano-plastics has exposed poor urban communities to risk of diseases and further marginalization.
“Environmental justice means educating those on the frontlines of plastic pollution about its risks, including them in decisions about its production, use, and disposal, and ensuring their access to a credible judicial system,” Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director said during the virtual launch of the report.
The report recommends that governments expand their monitoring of plastic waste, study its health impacts and invest in its management. And governments should also adopt and increase enforcement of bans on single-use plastics and encourage reduction, recycling and reuse.
“Additionally, they should sensitize and embolden affected communities to act by ensuring access to an effective judicial system that follows environmental justice principles, such as free prior informed consent (FPIC) and the right of access to information,” says the report.
Juliano Calil, lead author of the report, said the impact of plastics on vulnerable populations goes well beyond inefficient and sometimes non-existing waste management systems. “It starts with issues related to oil extraction, through toxic environments and greenhouse gas emissions, and it even impacts water distribution policies,” said Calil.
Marce Gutierrez-Graudins, co-author of the report said that disparate impacts on communities affected by plastic, at every point from production to waste, should make environmental justice a customary consideration within the marine conservation field.
The report says that the plastic waste crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic is also part of the global pollution crisis, which, alongside biodiversity loss and climate change, represent a triple planetary emergency that must be addressed by massive shifts in the way humanity utilizes the earth’s resources.
According to the report, plastic waste is undermining the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG1 on poverty, SDG2 on zero hunger, SDG14 on protecting marine ecosystems, and SDG16 on providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.