Experts Urge Human Rights Focus in International Treaty on Plastic Pollution
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As negotiations continue for the first international legally-binding treaty on plastic pollution, two experts working with the United Nations (UN) have called on member states and stakeholders to prioritize human rights in the treaty. David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the Environment, and Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on Toxics and human rights, made the plea ahead of World Environment Day on June 5th.
Plastic pollution continues to increase, creating a threat to human life.
Highlighting the exponential increase in plastic production and the resulting 400 million tons of plastic waste generated annually, the experts described plastic pollution as an overwhelming toxic threat that impacts human rights throughout its life cycle. In a joint statement, they emphasized the dangerous nature of plastics, which release hazardous substances during production and contain toxic chemicals that pose serious risks to human health, human rights, and the environment. Furthermore, plastics persist in the environment, with 85% of single-use plastics ending up in landfills or being dumped.
The experts cautioned against false and misleading solutions such as incineration or recycling, which only exacerbate the problem. Reports from the United Nations Environment Programme and Greenpeace underscored the limited success of recycling efforts, with only 9% of all plastics produced being recycled. They suggested that the only effective way to address the plastic pollution issue is to slow down and eventually cap plastic production, as recycling can still be harmful.
The experts also expressed concern for marginalized communities that bear a disproportionate burden of plastic pollution and waste. They pointed out that these communities, often living in "sacrifice zones" near polluting industries, experience higher rates of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.
Calling for a human rights-based approach to combat plastic pollution, the experts welcomed the progress made by member states towards an internationally binding instrument on plastic pollution. They emphasized the need to prioritize reduction in plastic production and use, detoxification, and greenhouse gas emission reductions.
As the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics continues its meetings in Paris, aiming to develop a comprehensive treaty, the experts stressed the urgency of employing a human rights perspective to address the plastic pollution crisis. They urged completion of the treaty by the end of 2024.
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