UN: plastic waste affects disadvantaged people the most

5 April 2021

Plastic pollution is a global scourge with plastic waste having become ubiquitous worldwide. We all suffer from it in some ways as microplastics has permeated even drinking water, seafood and table salt.

Yet some people suffer far more from plastic pollution than others, according to the United Nations.

“Vulnerable communities disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation caused by plastics pollution, and action is urgently needed to address the issue and restore access to human rights, health and well-being,” the UN’s Environment Programme says.

“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,” the UNEP notes based on findings detailed in a new report.

“Plastic waste not only endangers the livelihoods of those relying on marine resources, it also causes a raft of health issues for people who consume seafood infested with toxic micro and nano plastics. Women, in particular, suffer from plastic-related toxicity risk, due to higher aggregate exposure to plastics at home and even in feminine care products,” the UN agency elucidates.

These insights should come as no surprise. Economically disadvantaged people tend to live in communities with higher rates of pollution from air and water pollution to plastics pollution.

Cases in point are countries such as India where millions upon millions of the poorest citizens live in squalid urban slums where they are exposed to high levels of pollutants in various forms, largely owing to poor waste management.

Meanwhile, developing nations such as Thailand are flooded by waste imported from abroad as local businesses seek to turn a profit by recycling e-waste, which they often do with grave costs to the environment and local people’s health.

There are no simple solutions to the problem of plastic waste. The UNEP calls for an expansion in plastic waste monitoring and better waste management in addition to further studies on the health impacts of plastic waste.

“Governments should further enforce bans on single-use plastics and encourage their reduction, recycling and reuse,” the UN agency says.

“Other actors such as business and industry leaders, non-governmental actors, and consumers should also make efforts to reverse the situations for those who are socially, economically, politically marginalized,” it adds.

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