According to the report “Neglected: Environmental Justice Impacts of Plastic Pollution” by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Environmental Justice Non-governmental Organization (Azul), plastic pollution disproportionately affects marginalized communities and communities living near plastic production and waste sites, constituting an environmental injustice. The report calls for the recognition of communities affected by plastic waste and their inclusion in local decision making.
“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”, said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
The report showcases how environmental injustices are linked to plastic production, in areas such as deforestation for road building, the displacement of indigenous peoples to conduct oil drilling, as well as contamination of potable water by fracking operations to extract natural gas, in countries such as the United States and Sudan. Moreover, the report warns of health problems among African-American communities living near oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, and the occupational risks faced by some two million waste pickers in India.
The impacts of plastics on marginalized populations are severe, and exist at all stages of the production cycle, from extracting raw materials and manufacturing, through to consumption and disposal, according to the report.
Plastic waste not only endangers the livelihoods of those relying on marine resources, also causes a raft of health issues for people who consume seafood infested with toxic micro and nano plastics.
Women suffer from plastic-related toxicity risk, due to higher aggregate exposure to plastics at home and even in feminine care products. Differences in gender, social roles and political power in regulating plastic use and health standards place women at high risk of miscarriages and cancer, further exacerbating gender-related disparities overall.
Aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic waste has become a major part of the global pollution crisis, along with biodiversity loss and climate change, representing a triple emergency that must be tackled by strong and effective action plans. The report’s authors recommend that Governments expand their monitoring of plastic waste, study its health impacts and invest in its management. 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. The report follows UN Environment Assembly Resolution 2/11 for UNEP to further study the environmental, health and social impacts of plastic. It shows how plastic waste is undermining the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG1 on no 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.
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition II - 2021)