Plastics convey enormous benefits to humankind, but current patterns of plastic production, use, and disposal with little attention to sustainable design and a near absence of recovery, reuse, and recycling are responsible for grave harms to health, great economic costs, and deep societal injustices. These harms are rapidly worsening. Knowledge of plastics’ harms is still incomplete, but the Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health concludes there is sufficient evidence of plastics’ clear and present danger to require urgent intervention against the plastic crisis at global scale.
This extensive analysis documents plastics’ negative impacts on: (i) human health and well-being, focusing on vulnerable populations including pregnant mothers, children, workers, ethnic minorities, and indigenous peoples; (ii) on the global environment, focusing on the ocean’s health, and (iii) the economy. The report articulates specific sustainable policy solutions that can be implemented by governments and industries to minimize the environmental and health consequences of the global contamination by plastics. This is an urgent problem that must be addressed in parallel to climate change, as they are closely intertwined.
Plastic production is expected to triple in the next three decades due to reconversion of fossil fuel production forced by the progressive shift to electric vehicles. If not controlled, this trend will significantly increase global environmental contamination and health repercussions, and the burden of these impacts will especially target the most disadvantaged populations. This situation calls for immediate action according to principles of social and environmental justice.
The Commission urges that a cap on global plastic production with targets, timetables and national contributions be a central provision of the Global Plastics Treaty, currently under negotiation pursuant to a mandate from the United Nations Environment Assembly. We recommend inclusion of the following additional provisions:
The Treaty should extend beyond microplastics and marine litter to include all of the many thousands of chemicals incorporated into plastics.
The Treaty should include a provision banning or severely restricting manufacture and use of unnecessary, avoidable, and problematic plastic items, especially single-use items such as manufactured plastic microbeads.
The Treaty should include requirements on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that make fossil carbon producers, plastic producers and the manufacturers of plastic products legally and financially responsible for the safety and end-of-life management of all the materials they produce and sell.
The Treaty should mandate reductions in the chemical complexity of plastic products; health-protective standards for plastics and plastic additives; a requirement for use of sustainable non-toxic materials; full disclosure of all components; and traceability of components. International cooperation will be essential to implementing and enforcing these standards.
The Treaty should include Social and Environmental Justice (SEJ) remedies at each stage of the plastic life cycle designed fill gaps in community knowledge and advance both distributional and procedural equity.
The Treaty should include provisions assuring consistency with, and building on the policy momentum from, existing multilateral conventions addressing various aspects of plastics’ lifecycles, including the Stockholm, Basel, Rotterdam, and London Conventions.
The Commission further recommends the creation of a Permanent Science Policy Advisory Body to guide the Treaty’s implementation. The main priorities of this Body would be to guide Member States and other stakeholders in evaluating which solutions are most effective in reducing plastic consumption, enhancing plastic waste recovery and recycling, and curbing the generation of plastic waste. This Body could also assess trade-offs among these solutions, and evaluate safer alternatives to current plastics. It could monitor the transnational export of plastic waste. It could coordinate robust oceanic, land, and air-based MNP monitoring programs.
Health Law and Policy
Science and Technology Law
- Journal title
Annals of Global Health
Ubiquity Press, Ltd.
- Date submitted
29 March 2023
- Digital Object Identifier (DOI) URL
- Official Link
- Additional information
A correction article relating to this paper has been published and can be found at https://annalsofglobalhealth.org/articles/10.5334/aogh.4331, or on LIRA at https://lira.bc.edu/work/ns/2eea8e75-a2c8-4550-a213-e40363cfe1cb.