The environmental health group EcoWaste Coalition renewed its call on the government and the industry to decisively act to solve the plasticization and toxification of the country and the planet due to unbridled plastics production, consumption and disposal.
Toward the envisaged zero waste and toxics-free future for all, the group urged government and industry leaders, as well as those aspiring for elective posts in 2022, to pay a closer look at the report prepared by Dr. Marcos Orellana, the UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes.
“We have to have all hands on deck. As the report says, we are breathing, drinking, and eating plastics. It has found its way in our food chain. Its adverse effects are threatening our human rights. From individuals, business sectors, national and local governments, we all have a role to take to address the plastic crisis,” said Coleen Salamat, Plastic Solutions Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“To uphold our right to a healthful and balanced ecology, we urge our national and local governments, as well as upcoming 2022 national election candidates, to address the plastic crisis through a human rights based approach. The COVID-19 response is a lesson for us to follow prevention and precautionary principles to prevent environmental and human rights risks and harms.” she added
The report, which was submitted by Orellana to the UN General Assembly, examines the various stages of the plastics cycle and their negative consequences for the enjoyment of human rights. It provides recommendations to address the situation, including “integrating a human rights-based approach in the transition to a chemically safe circular economy.”
“We are in the midst of a worldwide plastics crisis. The world is polluted by plastics containing chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment, jeopardizing everyone’s full enjoyment of human rights,” said Orellana’s report. “It is past time that governments and businesses assume their responsibilities to address the global plastics problem.”
“Safeguarding the human rights of present and future generations that are compromised by the growing toxification of the planet demands that the international community reverse the plastics crisis. Addressing the negative impacts of the plastics cycle on human rights and integrating a human rights based approach to plastics policy are indispensable for effective and legitimate solutions to the global plastics problem,” the report said.
“Misleading notions, such as heralding recycling as an all-encompassing solution to the plastics problem, should be avoided. At the same time, other proposed solutions, such as incineration, plastic-to-fuel and bioplastics, should be assessed regarding their implications for human rights and the environment,” the report suggested.
For the government sector, the Special Rapporteur recommends the following action points:
(a) Recognize the threats that plastic poses to human rights in its entire cycle and acknowledge their responsibilities for the sound management of plastics;
(b) Adopt a human rights-based approach to plastics management, including meaningful public participation and access to remedies;
(c) Adopt urgent and immediate actions to reduce the volume of plastics production and use, including single-use plastics and packaging, and to prevent and address plastic pollution;
(d) Pursue complementary international responses, including the negotiation of a new international legally binding instrument addressing the whole cycle of plastics;
(e) Ensure appropriate funding for international initiatives aimed at the sound management of plastics and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 12;
(f) Establish controls and bans on non-essential plastics;
(g) Invest in initiatives to train and formalize waste pickers and to ensure safe and healthy work conditions;
(h) Require businesses to disclose the full chemical composition of plastic products, including additives;
(i) Ratify the Basel Convention ban amendment and fully implement the Basel Convention amendments relating to plastic waste;
(j) Phase out subsidies and export credit and guarantees for fossil fuel extraction, plastics production facilities and plastic-to-energy projects; and
(k) Establish and implement effective policies to manage the plastics cycle, including by:
(i) Creating an enabling environment for the conduct of scientific inquiry on the risks and harms to human health and the environment from plastics;
(ii) Establishing adequate civil and criminal penalties for illegal transboundary movements of waste;
(iii) Reducing plastics production, controlling and eliminating toxic additives and establishing liability regimes;
(iv) Applying the polluter-pays principle, including by adopting extended producer responsibility mechanisms within and beyond boundaries; and by
(v) Regulating classes of chemicals in accordance with the precautionary principle.
For the business sector, the Special Rapporteur proposes the following:
(a) Actively work to eliminate the presence of toxics additives in plastics and the practice of recycling plastics containing hazardous substances;
(b) Invest in closed-loop systems that do not generate hazardous emissions or waste;
(c) Direct research and development efforts towards developing safe and circular non-single use delivery methods; and
(d) Ensure that information on plastics composition and additives is publicly available.
According to the report, each of the stages of the plastics cycle poses threats to human rights.
The exploration and extraction of fossil fuels pollute the air, water and soil, resulting in dangerous compounds, deforestation and ecosystem fragmentation. The ever increasing production of plastics exacerbates the vast contamination of the environment and its consequences for human health. Plastic waste poses similarly damaging impacts.
Moreover, plastic waste is being shipped from wealthy to low-income countries with even less technical and financial capacity to manage it. Only a small portion of the exported waste is recycled, leaving the rest to burden developing countries and triggering serious concerns of double environmental standards and environmental injustice, the report said.