Marine Litter, Plastics Pollution, and Human Rights: Factsheets on preventing plastic pollution in the Pacific region launched

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16 November 2021, Apia (PRESS RELEASE)

Despite not being producers of plastics, and contributing as little as 1.3% to global plastics pollution, the Pacific region is on the frontline of the plastic crisis and is disproportionately impacted by plastics pollution.

In a bid to support Pacific Island policy makers in their efforts to develop strategies to address this issue, a range of factsheets have been produced, focused on preventing plastics pollution in the Pacific. The five factsheets were launched on the first day of the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable.

Hosted by Massey University’s Political Ecology Research Centre, The University of Newcastle, Australia, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA),  and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Plastics Pollution Prevention in the Pacific Region side event brought together experts from government, academia, private sector, and civil society to promote awareness and enhance understandings of the impacts of plastic pollution, and discuss strategies needed to address them.

The factsheets cover five key areas – A Safe(r) Circular Economy for Plastics in the Pacific; Plastics Pollution Policy Gaps in the Pacific Region; Plastics, Marine Litter, and Climate Change in the Pacific Region; Plastics Impacts on Human Health in the Pacific Region; and The Business of Plastics: Impacts of Plastics Pollution on Human Rights in the Pacific Region.

“Factsheets, although they may sound simplistic, are actually one of the key tools used to communicate plastic pollution in the Pacific, said Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson, Editor of Pacific Environment Weekly and moderator of the session.

“Most of our schools, organisations and ministries still depend on paper to communicate so these factsheets are key to communicating changes on the ground.”

Ali’imuamua Setoa Apo, Principal Solid Waste Advisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa congratulated all the collaborators involved in the development of the factsheets.

“These will be very useful for the Pacific as awareness and educational materials,” he said.

Funded by UNEP, the factsheets were developed by Dr Trisia Farrelly of Massey University, New Zealand and Dr Sascha Fuller of The University of Newcastle Australia in partnership with CIEL, Nadya Va’a, and Pacific Island countries.

Dr Farrelly noted the factsheets were developed from the results of the 2020 EIA Pacific Islands Plastic Pollution Prevention Policy Gap Analysis. The study showed that national plastics pollution prevention plans and policy frameworks are urgently needed to prevent problematic plastics from entering the region.

“The study also highlighted that a legally binding plastic pollution treaty would significantly increase the success of those plans and policy frameworks.”

Ms Patti Pedrus from Department of Environment, Climate Change and Emergency Management, the Federated States of Micronesia discussed the increasing dependency of Pacific Island nations on imported food and beverages which is contributing significantly to the plastics problem, concurring that a strengthened policy framework is needed.

This would also protect Pacific communities from the human health and climate impacts of plastics pollution, which do, as Ms Imogen Ingram of Islands Sustainability Alliance, Cook Islands, pointed out, occur all along the plastics lifecycle. 

For these reasons, Dr Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights made clear that the plastics crisis is not just about waste, as the whole life cycle of plastics has serious impacts on people and their rights.

“A human rights-based approach is critical to an effective and legitimate global instrument. Human rights principles can and should inform the transition towards a chemically safe circular economy. A rights-based approach to the plastics crisis can ensure that solutions actually work and do not come at the expense of those most vulnerable in society”

Speaking on behalf of UNEP, Mr Sefanaia Nawadra, Head of UNEPs Pacific office, said, “UNEP has always supported and been the convenor for the work on waste and marine plastic pollution and we will continue to serve this role.”

Mr Nawadra remarked that while factsheets are an excellent first step in the collection of the science and knowledge, there is still work that needs to be done to translate the information contained in these factsheets into policy briefs to help countries when they go into negotiations for various fora.

Supporting Pacific voices is of utmost importance, particularly as we move towards a critical milestone in global governance of plastics at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in February 2022.

The factsheets are freely available for download and can be accessed here:

Watch the launch here:

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