There is a need to establish a coherent and effective framework to promote exchanges and cooperation, while keeping in mind the importance of a level playing field, in order to protect the environment and human health.
UNEP Says A Global Agreement is Needed to Address PPE

The previous month was Plastic Free July which is celebrated across the globe.  It encourages millions of people to be part of the solution to single-use plastic waste problem at home, work, school, and even at restaurants so that we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.   

The global coronavirus pandemic heightened the plastic pollution problem, as it necessitated the use of unmanageable levels of biomedical single use Plastic Protective Equipment (PPE), which played significant roles in protecting people during the COVID-19 pandemic at a great cost to the environment.  

The Ministerial Conference on Marine litter and Plastic Pollution stated that “plastic production and consumption are accelerating at an unprecedented rate, partly due to new realities including the discarding of medical supplies, personal protective equipment and other anti-COVID-19 products around the world. The impacts, particularly from the unsound management of plastic waste, are manifested in all environmental compartments, most prominently, in the marine environment.  In view of the nature of global supply chains and the flow of plastic pollution in the environment, the challenge is transboundary in scope. No country can adequately address its different aspects alone. There is a need to establish a coherent and effective framework to promote exchanges and cooperation, while keeping in mind the importance of a level playing field, in order to protect the environment and human health.  […] A global agreement is therefore needed with a clear vision and ambitious objectives and measures to achieve the reduction and progressive elimination of direct and indirect discharges of plastics into the environment. The agreement should be based on the precautionary approach and recognize the devastating impact of plastic pollution on ecosystems and livelihoods. Such an agreement would cover international gaps, complementing and enhancing existing instruments and avoiding duplication of efforts. […] It is anticipated that negotiations will commence and an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution will be established at UNEA-5.2. Strong political momentum and will are needed in order to proceed rapidly and agree on ambitious content. At the same time, urgent actions by UN Member States and other stakeholders are needed and should not be delayed. ”

Key Messages for the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution

(1) Plastic production and consumption are accelerating at an unprecedented rate, partly due to new realities including the discarding of medical supplies, personal protective equipment and other anti-COVID-19 products around the world. The impacts, particularly from the unsound management of plastic waste, are manifested in all environmental compartments, most prominently the marine environment.

(2) In view of the nature of global supply chains and the flow of plastic pollution in the environment, the challenge is transboundary in scope. No country can adequately address its different aspects alone. There is a need to establish a coherent and effective framework to promote exchanges and cooperation, while keeping in mind the importance of a level playing field, in order to protect the environment and human health.

(3) Current approaches have proven insufficient to address the scale of the challenge, let alone keep pace with predicted developments. Consequently, it is necessary to ramp up efforts and take collaborative action.

(4) Global solidarity and the involvement of all stakeholders must be guiding principles. Urgent action is required by all actors – governments, industry and civil society – at all levels (local, national, regional and international), including a strong global objective and concrete action plans and measures , supported by strengthening of international and regional cooperation and the science-policy interface.

(5) Economic, social and environmental impacts need to be further identified and quantified. The costs of inaction, including environmental damage, significantly exceed the costs of action against plastic pollution. Different actors can make meaningful contributions towards a common global objective, including through efforts to internalize environmental costs.

(6) A global agreement is therefore needed with a clear vision and ambitious objectives and measures to achieve the reduction and progressive elimination of direct and indirect discharges of plastics into the environment. The agreement should be based on the precautionary approach and recognize the devastating impact of plastic pollution on ecosystems and livelihoods. Such an agreement would cover international gaps, complementing and enhancing existing instruments and avoiding duplication of efforts.

(7) A long-term perspective should be taken in developing strategies that avoid path dependencies, cross-media and leakage effects and, insofar as possible, environmental trade-offs.

(8) Solutions should be based on a cross-sectoral, holistic approach and address the whole life cycle of plastic products and alternatives, thus aiming at circularity in the plastics economy. Preventive measures should be prioritized, including fostering reusability, recyclability and repairability at different levels.

(9) Specific circumstances require solutions to be adapted while building on existing best available techniques and environmental practices. The approaches used should be both science-based and pragmatic, promoting preventive and precautionary measures. Capacity building and technical and financial assistance for countries most in need must be taken into consideration.

(10) Methods and standards should be developed for tracing and transparency. They should support an efficient, coordinated global effort to combat all types of plastic pollution, especially marine litter, including specific measures for certain plastics that are considered to present particular risks to the environment and health due to chemical additives, and for products regarded as impossible to collect and manage safely.

(11) It is anticipated that negotiations will commence and an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution will be established at UNEA-5.2. Strong political momentum and will are needed in order to proceed rapidly and agree on ambitious content. At the same time, urgent actions by UN Member States and other stakeholders are needed and should not be delayed.

According to researchers, the current rates of plastic emissions globally may trigger effects that we will not be able to reverse.  This is because, as pointed out by Rebecca Herbert, Expert Contributor to Tiredearth.com, a high number of potentially concerning chemicals are used in everyday plastic products that are often toxic to aquatic life, causing cancer or damaging specific organs. 

The United States is the world’s biggest generator of plastic waste with the highest number of coronavirus patients in the world. India is the second ranking country concerning coronavirus patients and is responsible for dumping the largest amounts of plastics into the ocean.  China is the second biggest plastic polluter, with 70,700 tons, trailed by Indonesia, with 56,300 tons, followed by Brazil, with nearly 38,000 tons of plastic waste dumped into the ocean per year, according to a study by British packaging company Raja.

Artists Selva Ozelli, Semine Hazar, Fatma Kadir and Ilhan Sayin launched the #Tiredearth #Maskuary Campaign art shows which made their debut at the London Climate Action Week with the support of TOC and CUHK Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change to raise awareness concerning the environmental impact of the use of PPE. These art shows were also published by the Museums for Future as well as at the International Coral Reefs Symposium 2021 Art Gallery during the Pollution Free month of July.

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