The world must combat the “toxic tidal wave” of plastic pollution that threatens human rights, said two independent UN experts a few days ago on the occasion of World Environment Day, celebrated on 5 June 2023.
“Plastic production has grown exponentially in recent decades and today the world generates 400 million tonnes of plastic waste per year,” said David R. Boyd. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on Toxic Substances and Human Rights
We are in the midst of a toxic tidal wave that pollutes our environment and has a negative impact on human rights in a multitude of ways throughout its life cycle
The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop a legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2), concluded on 3 June in the French capital with a mandate for the presidency of the INC, with the support of the Secretariat, to prepare a zero draft of the agreement before the next session, scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya, in November.
A dangerous “cycle”
The experts explained how all stages of the “plastic cycle” infringe people’s rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, water and an adequate standard of living.
Plastic production releases hazardous substances and relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels. Plastic itself contains toxic chemicals that endanger humans and nature. In addition, 85% of single-use plastics end up in landfills or are released into the environment.
Meanwhile, incineration, recycling and other “false and misleading solutions” only aggravate the threat, they added, noting that “the plastic, microplastics and hazardous substances they contain can be found in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.”
Suffering in the “sacrificed areas”
The declaration also addresses how marginalized communities are most affected by exposure to plastic pollution and waste.
“We are particularly concerned about groups that suffer from environmental inequities due to increased exposure to plastic pollution, many of whom live in ‘sacrificial zones’., they said, referring to locations near facilities such as open-pit mines, oil refineries, steel plants and coal-fired power plants.
Plastic pollution has also made an “alarming” contribution to climate change, which is often overlooked, experts said. For example, plastic particles in the oceans limit the ability of marine ecosystems to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere,” they added.
They noted that over the past two years, the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly have adopted historic resolutions recognizing the human right to a clean environment, This should encourage and guide initiatives to combat plastic pollution.
Treaty negotiation underway
They also welcomed the progress made towards an internationally binding treaty to reduce plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) projects that the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could reach 23 to 37 million tonnes per year by 2040.
In Paris, more than 1,700 participants – more than 700 delegates from 169 Member States and more than 900 NGO observers – attended INC-2. The second session follows INC-1, held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, last November.
“I am encouraged by the progress made at ICN-2 and the mandate to prepare a zero draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “ I look forward to the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Nairobi and I invite Member States to build on this momentum. The world is calling for a broad, innovative, inclusive and transparent agreement, one that builds on science and learns from stakeholders, and one that guarantees support for developing nations.”
In its decision, the INC requested the Secretariat to invite observers to submit their comments by 15 August and Members by 15 September on items that were not considered at INC-2, and on all potential areas of work, to inform the work of INC-3.
At the beginning of this session, I asked you to make Paris count. That’s what you did, giving us a mandate for a zero project and intersessional work,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the NIC Secretariat.