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Waste Reduction



Female workers sort out plastic bottles for recycling in a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. If plastic production stays on its current trajectory, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 billion tons per year. Photo: Abir Abdullah/Climate Visuals

Plastics are contaminating our planet and are choking our oceans, causing harm to the health of humans and destroying ecosystems that are vital to our survival. The UN Environment Programme is raising the alarm over the severity of the global problem with plastics and highlighting the plethora of ordinary people, coastal workers, and communities leading efforts to combat plastic pollution.

A staggering 430 million tonnes of plastic are made every year. Two-thirds of which are disposed of in the trash after a single usage.

Eleven million metric tonnes of marine debris are released into the ocean each year, in addition to an estimated 200 million tons of plastics that flow already through our oceans, according to data from Ocean Conservatory. Ocean Conservatory.

At the current pace of production, the world will have far more marine plastics in the sea than fish the mid-century mark, According to Nikola Simpson, Head of the United Nations Development Program’s Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Blue Economy Accelerator Lab.

“We just keep producing, producing, producing plastic,” she says.

The UN Environment Programme is determined to aid the world in avoiding the possibility of a catastrophe in the future. The UNEP’s recent document, “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy,” proposes a strategy to reduce plastic waste by 80% over two decades.

Five reasons the world must be able to stop plastic pollution and how you can all join in helping ensure that our planet is protected for future generations.

Microplastic pellets, shown here on a fingertip, are tiny pieces of plastic debris found nearly everywhere in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. Photo: Chayanuphol


From the Philippines all the way to the Philippines to the Arctic up to the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Plastic is all over the place. It has many shapes, from synthetic fishing nets to single-use products such as water bottles and trash bags.

If all the plastic waste in the ocean were collected and disposed of, it would take five million containers to ship. In other words, there’s enough waste in the sea to cover 30000 km (18,640 miles) if it was placed in a row from end to end. This is equivalent to the distance across the ocean from New York City to Sydney, Australia.

In addition, since plastic is not biodegradable at all, It simply breaks down in smaller, smaller fragments over time, producing what’s referred to as nano- or microplastics.

“It’s completely indestructible,” declares Agustina Besada, Co-founder and director of Unplastify, An organization located in Buenos Aires, Argentina, dedicated to reducing plastic pollution. “To me, that’s a problem of systemic design.”

A man works to clean up marine waste from the beaches and waters of Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Data from remote beach cleans is recorded, tracked, and used to create public-facing programs and campaigns to create systemic change for pollution from plastics and debris. Photo: Nicole Holman/Climate Visuals


Despite their small size, nanoplastics and microplastics are a massive danger to the health of humans and the health of ecosystems that are vital to us.

“These microplastics act as little sponges and come with a lot of different chemicals that get absorbed,” Besada clarifies. “All these [affect] our health system [and can cause] endocrine alterations.”

They also penetrate and infiltrate every aspect of our planet, including everyday items like our laundry and clothing, to unique places like the top of Mount Everest or the ocean’s depths.

When you’re disposing of plastics, “there’s no such thing as ‘away,’ because everything must go somewhere,” Simpson states. “It’s on your phone, on your credit cards, and in your clothing. … The virus is within your body.”

When you consider “the human health impacts of plastics,” she says, “some of them have been linked to possibly being cancerous.”

The problem isn’t just human beings afflicted and harmed by ocean ecosystems. Besada states that these plastics were proven to alter animal reproduction capabilities. This has significant implications for our food chain and the communities that depend on ecosystems to provide their livelihoods.

A female student of Nikuao Primary School in Kiribati refills her water bottle from reusable containers sponsored by UNICEF. Photo: Vlad Sokhin / UNICEF


Achieving the UNEP’s ambitious goal of reducing plastic waste by 80% over the next 20 years is feasible. The changes we must take as consumers are needed viable and cost-effective through implementing three market shifts.

Eliminating excessive plastics used for everyday use, like packaging, is the initial step, as per the UNEP’s “Turning off the Tap” report. Reusing refillable bottles, for example, improving recycling, and converting towards greener alternatives, are just a few of the recommendations in the report.

“If we could cut production this would greatly aid. Then, hopefully, as changes in the way we behave the need for alternatives or return to the methods we employed previously,” says Simpson.

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Jane S. King

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