Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues | Plastics and Health
21 Jan 2021
Lieu: Online | Webex
Organisation: Geneva Environment Network
The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues aim to facilitate further engagement and discussion among the stakeholders in International Geneva and beyond. In addition, they intend to address the plastic crisis and support coordinated approaches that can lead to more efficient decision making.
About the Dialogues
The world is facing a plastic crisis, the status quo is not an option. Plastic pollution is a serious issue of global concern which requires an urgent and international response involving all relevant actors at different levels. Many initiatives, projects and governance responses and options have been developed to tackle this major environmental problem, but we are still unable to cope with the amount of plastic we generate. In addition, there is a lack of coordination which can better lead to a more effective and efficient response.
Various actors in Geneva are engaged in rethinking the way we manufacture, use, trade and manage plastics. The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues aim at outreaching and creating synergies among these actors, highlighting efforts made by intergovernmental organizations and governments, businesses, the scientific community, civil society and individuals in the hope of informing and creating stronger synergies and coordinated actions. The dialogues will also look at what the different stakeholders have achieved at all levels, present the latest research and governance options.
In addition, although the dialogues target stakeholders from all continents, they primarily aim to encourage increased engagement of the Geneva community in the run-up to various global environmental negotiations, such as:
- UNEA-5 (1st and 2nd sessions) in February 2021 and February 2022
- BRS COPs in July 2021
- SAICM ICCM5 in 2022
This first session of dialogues will end in February 2021 to build momentum towards the first session of UNEA-5. It will aim to facilitate further engagement and discussions among the International Geneva stakeholders and actors across the regions and support coordinated approaches that can lead to more efficient global decision making. It will also intend to provide a platform to further carry the discussion from the recently conclude Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHEG) on Marine Litter and Microplastics towards UNEA-5 part 2 in 2022.
The Plastics and Climate and Health session is the fourth dialogue to be organized leading to and making recommendations towards the High-Level Dialogue on Plastic Governance Dialogue on 11 March 2021.
The dialogues are organized in collaboration with the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat, the Center for International Environmental Law, the Global Governance Centre at the Graduate Institute, Norway, and Switzerland.
Plastics and Health
Research has shown that exposure to plastic is expanding into new areas of the environment and the food chain, as plastic products can fragment into smaller particles and toxic chemicals.
Plastic and its impact on human health remain poorly understood. Humans are exposed to a large variety of toxic chemicals and microplastics through inhalation, ingestion, and direct skin contact, throughout the plastic lifecycle. According to WWF, on average people could be ingesting approximately five grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card. Other recent studies have also detected microplastics in human placentas.
Microplastics contain chemical additives, which can leach out of the microplastic. They can also bind and accumulate toxic chemicals from the surrounding environment, such as seawater and sediment, functioning as carriers for toxic compounds. Plastic produced from biomass sources, often called biodegradable plastic or bioplastic and promoted as more ecological than traditional plastic, contain similar chemical additives as conventional plastic and also have endocrine-disrupting effects.
Civil society organizations have been alerting that plastic threatens human health on a global scale, and that the international community is not engaging enough to handle this problem.
Leading experts at this session summarized the most recent research findings on the impacts of plastics on our health and discuss the current processes ongoing at the global level to address the issue.
- Plastics and Waste | 26 November 2020
- Plastics and Climate and Air Pollution | 21 January 2021
- Plastics and Human Rights | 14 January 2021
- Plastics and Standards | 28 January 2021
- Plastics and Trade | 4 February 2021
- Plastics in the Life Cycle/SCP | 11 February 2021
- High-Level Dialogue on Plastic Governance | 11 March 2021
Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO
Chief, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP
Permanent Mission of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Vice-President of ICCM5
Senior Research Fellow, School of Engineering, University of Newcastle
Science Advisor, IPEN
National Geographic Expedition Leader and Explorer
Miguel PEREZ-LA PLANTE (moderator)
Health Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office and the other international organizations in Geneva
Jennifer DE FRANCE
Technical Officer, Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Team, WHO | Temporarily replacing Maria Neira
Welcome and Introduction
Introduction to the Session | Miguel PEREZ – LA PLANTE, Switzerland
Plastic pollution is a truly a multi-stakeholder issue, as the variety of actors involved in the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues illustrate. Our panel today reflects this aspect, as we have actors from academic, international organizations, Member States and civil society.
International Geneva can be seen as the “capital” of global health, as well as of chemicals and waste governance. Many important global events in this field area happening this year: the 5th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in February, the back-to-back Conference of the Parties (COPs) of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS), and the 5th Meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). The pool of expertise present in Geneva should come together to advance the plastics agenda and stimulate the community to get involved with the issue.
In times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been relying on plastics more than ever, with the use of masks for example. The panelists are invited to address this recent issue in their inputs on plastic pollution.
Introductory Remarks | Maria NEIRA, WHO
The COVID-19 pandemic truly showed our vulnerability and the importance of our relationship with our environment. WHO is a strong advocate of the need for handling this relationship in a better way. In May 2020, WHO proposed the Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19, which puts forward six main prescriptions about how to ensure a healthy and green recovery. There is many discussions about building back better, but “back” was not good. Rather, it is crucial that we build forward better and this includes stopping pollution.
The first recommendation of the manifesto highlights the vital importance of reestablishing a healthy relationship with nature. This includes stopping the pollution of our water, air, soil and ultimately, our lives. Incredible amounts of plastics are indeed being used due to the pandemic, and stopping pollution, including that of plastics, should be a priority.
WHO is highly concerned about the risks of microplastics. We will be using our voice to call for reducing plastic pollution, while recognizing that this material is also useful for some purposed. In the medical sphere, plastics are part of life-saving technology. However, in other applications, plastics is most of the time not needed.
Nobody wants to eat plastics every day; but the truth is we do. We need to unlock the potential of International Geneva to raise awareness about the important issue of plastic pollution. With all its power and influence, WHO will devote efforts for a pollution-free world.
Introductory Remarks | Monika MACDEVETTE, UNEP
Plastics have become a major source of pollution globally. In order to address this problem, a holistic approach, which includes life cycle analyses and resource circularity understanding, is warranted. An end-of-the-pipeline approach which focuses only on waste management is insufficient to fully address the issue. Not only do most plastics come from a fossil fuel source, but there are numerous concerns about chemicals and health issues all along the production chain.
COVID-19 has shown our reliance on plastics, and what happens to all the one-time use commodities that we handle should be a concern. We truly need to address the ways we manage this critical, convenient and sometime life-saving material that is plastic.
Aside from our own health and well-being, we also need to not lose sight of the impacts of plastics on our environment. We need a better understanding of plastic decomposition and the effects on the rest of life on the planet. The horrific pictures that we may all have seen, depicting dead birds or cattle whose stomach was filled with plastics, are a reminder of the consequences of plastic pollution on the environment. As custodians and stewards of the environment, we simply cannot leave this unaddressed. While we are dependent on healthy ecosystems and the services they provide, we cannot expect these ecosystems to fully function if they are compromised by pollution. Therefore, we need to look at pollutants in the environment for our own health and well-being.
Setting the Scene : Latest Science on Plastics and Health
Plastics and Human Nutrition | Thava PALANISAMI, University of Newcastle (Australia)
When solving global problems, it’s often hard to fully understand them in a way that allows us to address the root cause rather than the symptoms. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic should remind us that all endemic and epidemics are based on how we treat the environment. It is the best time to talk about the plastic issue, because plastics interact with the environment, including chemicals and pathogens. Plastic waste in the environment is here to stay for decades, if not centuries. Human exposure to plastics is evident by the detection of microplastics in drinking water, food, air, plants and human stools. To what extent the exposure to these plastic particles of varying shape, size and composition are relevant for public health is still unclear.
Our research found evidence about the mass of microplastics ingested by humans. This piece of information is critical for human health risk assessments. The existence of plastics in the food chain has been established, but the amount we ingest had not yet been defined. Our objective was to estimate the mass of plastics ingested by standardizing available evidence from diverse and reliable sources. Taking into account the uncertainties of different data, we estimated a global average rate of microplastics ingestion of 5,5g per week. Although microplastics are defined as particles up to 5mm, our estimation excludes any size above 1mm, based on the assumption that the smaller the size, the higher the associated health risks.
The only solution to the plastic problem is to reduce plastic use. The results of our study were used by our partner, WWF, to develop an intelligent risk communication tool. The use of the credit card analogy for the maximum ingestion rate reached billions of people. These results also underpin the development of a web tool called Your Plastic Diet, which has been accessed by more than 2 million people. Hopefully, the credit card analogy can play an important role in the human mind to remind us of the plastic problem every time we use our credit card.
The amount of plastic ingested can change under different scenarios, based on our diets or geographical location. Our study also highlight future research needs to develop more reliable estimations. Harmonizing methods can help us overcome challenges to identifying microplastics. Following our results last year, many studies have been published, reporting findings of new particles in various diet sources. Overall, they suggest that we may have underestimated the amount of microplastics that we ingest. There is a need for additional studies to a more refined and robust estimations.
What is next in terms of research and policy issues? Developing a comprehensive road map for the human health impact assessment for plastics is critical. It should consider microplastic as a three-dimensional toxicant, as microplastics are associated with chemical contaminants and pathological contaminants. Microplastics themselves, chemical additives and pathogens all have severe health risks. A comprehensive road map should also consider total environmental exposure, which includes all sources of exposure to microplastics, not just water or food.
Many scientific areas still need to be investigated. Of particular relevance to our times is the hazards from plastic associated pathogens. For instance, research as shown that COVID-19 pathogens can survive up to nine days on plastics. All these scientific findings need to feed policymaking. The scientific community is actively working on the plastic issue; however, efforts are scattered and only scratch the surface. We need to go deeper, especially on the topic of human health. It’s not only about how much microplastics we ingest: even one piece of plastic ingested is too much!
Hazardous Plastic Additives and Health | Sara BROSCHE, IPEN
IPEN is a global network with participating organization in 125 countries who work together for a toxics-free future for all. It aims at linking local, regional and global efforts to prevent harm from chemicals and waste. Every stage of the life cycle of plastics is associated with hazardous chemicals, from the extraction of fossil fuels to the production, recycling until the product end-of-life.
All plastics we use today contain chemical additives, because they are necessary to provide specific properties such as flexibility, color, durability, etc. Many hazardous additives are still in use in many countries today. These additives can harm human health through different mechanisms. Many of them are endoctrine-disrupting chemicals that can cause a wide variety of harm at every low concentration. Health risks include several types of cancer, impacts on neural development and the immune system, and many more. The report on Plastics, EDCs & Health, produced by the Endoctrine Society and IPEN, provides more information on specific chemical additives and their associated risks. In the EU, a large percentage of chemical additives to plastics are in fact under regulatory scrutiny.
There is also no good way of dealing with hazardous chemicals during disposal or recycling. Chemicals additives are not removed during recycling process, but are actually transferred to the new product.
New hazardous substances can be generated by the recycling process itself. Hazardous chemicals are thus spread by the recycling process and can contaminate all kinds of plastics. IPEN has produced several reports on this issue. Incineration releases greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals while generating hazardous ash, while landfills are sources leaching of hazardous chemicals. Often waste is also exported to countries with no capacity to deal with it, meaning it will either get dumped or burned.
There are some existing agreements in place that can be utilized to prevent harm from hazardous plastic additives. The Stockholm Convention already lists several additives, but it should list all additives that meet the criteria for global elimination. A grouping approach which does not evaluate chemicals one by one would also be useful. The Basel Convention now regulates plastic waste trade, but more could be done by controlling all plastics that meet Annex III hazard criteria. SAICM also provides opportunities to address plastic through a voluntary framework.
To conclude, more action is needed to address the plastic crisis. Existing global frameworks should be harnessed and utilized to ban hazardous chemicals in plastics. We also need more regional and national processes, such as taxes, obligations and extended producer responsibility. Labeling requirements should also be set to allow consumers to choose product they want. Last but not least, we need to dramatically reduce the production of new plastics.
The Plastics Health Coalition | Paul ROSE
If I am ever asked to summarize my life as an explorer and science expedition leader working in the Arctic, Antarctic and some of the most remote areas in between, all I would want to say is that I see a lot less fish and a lot more plastics. Plastics is found everywhere. When I go back to diving sites I visited in 1969, I now see a lot less fish and way more rubbish in the sea. Even the most remote and beautiful Arctic beaches that used to be pristine are now filled with plastics. Every single water sample we collect from the sea contains plastics, no matter how beautiful these waters may look.
Monika mentioned before the pictures of the albatross chicks from the Marshall Islands whose bellies were full of plastics. I once presented a BBC documentary on the issue of plastics, in which I cut open some dead sea birds from the Northeast coast of Britain. Every single bird we looked at had plastics in them. The front cover of National Geographic has now shown many powerful images related to the plastic crisis.
A few years ago, I celebrated the scientific news that nanoplastics were proven to cross the blood-brain barrier in fish. I assumed things would know change as we know that plastics are inside us, and that this out-of-control chemical experiment going on inside our bodies is about to finish. But, as we all know, things did not change. It was very frustrating to see that kind of news pushed way back in the papers.
However, some progress is being made. In my role as and Ambassador to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, I had the pleasure to see the Plastic Amendments be accepted in 2019 and enter into force in January 2021. This clarifies the way plastic waste is internationally traded and it brought additional types of plastic waste into the control mechanisms. Hopefully, this agreement will mark the end of the “wild west” of trading in plastic waste.
Additional initiatives are being taken around the world, for example the Econyl project from Aquafil, the Zoological Society of London and National Geographic. With this project, they have set up a plant that processes lost fishing nets into nylon. Our culture is changing too. People are taking part into beach cleans, and we are seeing a change in social acceptance around litter. We even have now brilliant young people who are driving change with their leadership and impatience. That is a great hope for the future.
With all this activity going, plus the regular science and technical reports that can get hidden back in the news, we need a trustworthy and accurate channel to communicate on plastics. Alarm bells are ringing about the suspected health risks of plastics and new scientific research is now needed more than ever. The Plastic Soup Foundation created a new research and advocacy alliance: the Plastic Health Coalition. With this coalition, various national and international environmental research organizations are joining forces to encourage, enhance and disseminate scientific research into the health effects of plastics. So if you are a scientist and you have results to share with the world, contact the foundation and we’ll make sure you have the international stage for it.
The 2019 Plastic Health summit was such a huge success that they have decided to do it again for the next two years. Leading scientists, policymakers, influencers and innovators gathered around one goal: the search for answers. Before, during and after the event, the message reached 2 billion people. The second Plastic Health summit will be held in Amsterdam on 5 October 2020 and you’re invited to attend. On 21 January 2021, the UK government opened applications for calls to groups to bring the Climate Summit to life, COP26 In Glasgow in November. This could also be a great opportunity for projects to further the work on plastics.
Plastics and Health Governance
Uruguay addressing Plastics and Health at International and National Level | Valentina Sierra, Uruguay
Plastic litter is one of the greatest environmental threat to our planet. Scientific evidence has shown that marine litter presents risks both for human health and for the environment. Plastic becomes a problem when it turns into garbage, when we discard it after only using it once and there are no recycling or collection strategies. But the problem is more complex than this, and this is why we need to adopt a life cycle approach. Health impacts occur at every stage of the plastic life cycle.
IPEN’s report, which was presented earlier, is clear on the facts. Plastics contain chemicals that are hazardous to human health. The report identifies seven harmful chemical types in plastics, and explains what they are, their exposure routes and the associated health impacts. To protect health and ecosystems, harmful chemicals need to be excluded from the value chain as early as possible, in order to allow a better recyclability of plastics and a toxic-free circularity.
At the international level, a new framework for SAICM and the sound management of chemicals and waste Beyond 2020 in under discussion. We expect to present recommendations for its adoption at the 5th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5). SAICM as an inclusive, multi-stakeholder and multisectoral framework, which provides the opportunity to discuss, coordinate and act together on chemicals throughout their life cycle. Several areas linked to marine litter and microplastics are considered emerging policy issues under SAICM. The Beyond 2020 framework would create opportunities for new areas of work, capacity-building, knowledge sharing and promotion of innovation. We also consider that a Science Policy Interface for all the Chemicals and Waste cluster is needed.
Under the Basel Convention, Uruguay has been deeply involved with the creation of the Plastic Waste Partnership, that was established to mobilize diverse stakeholders resources and expertise to assist on the implementation and to provide practical support. At the same time, we co-sponsored the amendment of the Convention to include plastic waste, with the goal of making global trade more transparent and better regulated, while ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.
Uruguay has also been part of UNEP Clean Seas campaign, and joined last year the Group of Friends to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution in New York. These steps align with the need to raise awareness on current gaps and to adopt a human rights-based approach to address the plastics crisis. We welcome initiatives like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste from the private sector, and the Manta Project from the NGO Sea Cleaners. we consider its fundamental to explore further opportunities to engage with academia, the private sector and civil society organizations to advance on this matter.
At the regional level, I should mention the significant role of the Basel and Stockholm regional centers, that are based in Uruguay. They are already making a relevant contribution in supporting the Parties on a wide range of issues related to plastic as well as by providing technical assistance.
At the national level we are implementing laws regarding the use of non-returnable containers and the sustainable use of plastic bags. More recently, we passed the comprehensive waste management law, which seeks to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of waste management at all stages. In addition, we are developing a strategy to reduce marine litter and microplastics under the FREPLATA Project. The Uruguayan Antarctic Institute conducting research on marine litter and microplastics in the Antarctic.
However, much more action is needed to address the plastic challenge. It will require common global actions involving public policy, as well as deep changes in social and commercial behavior, including manufacturers, traders and consumers.
Finally, last August we established a new Ministry of Environment, whose priorities are centered on water quality, the status in the basins, production processes, and waste management. In that sense, we are currently exploring the global response options that were developed by the Ad-hoc expert group on marine litter and microplastics, including a new global agreement.
Towards a Pollution-Free Planet | Monika MACDEVETTE, UNEP
Plastics contain chemicals, many of which are harmful to human health, as well as the rest of life in the environment. Last year, UNEP developed an assessment report on issues of concern. This report includes many issues linked to plastics, such as the impacts of microplastics on environment and health, sections on bisphenol-A, phthalates, perfulorinated compounds and nanomaterials. UNEP is also developing a paper on chemicals and plastics and taking part in discussion around the Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020 framework.
At the global level, the Basel Convention added plastic waste to its legally binding framework, and a number of substances are already being controlled at the global level under the Stockholm Convention. The Ad-hoc Open-ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics produced a chair summary which will be presented at the 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) to inform Member States and stakeholders of the potential options for continued work in that field.
UNEP is also involved in setting a road map for circularity in plastics and is collaborating on the New Plastic Economy global commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Launched in 2015, it unites businesses, governments and other organizations from around the world behind a common vision and a set of 2025 targets to address the problem. UNEP also addresses plastics in the Toward a Pollution-Free Planet Implementation Plan, which was endorsed by all Member States at UNEA. The plan puts forward the gaps and challenges, as well as action areas that need to be addressed in the future.
Regional and global plastic production estimate reveal that around 7.8 billion tons of plastic resin and fibers were manufactured from 1950 and 2015. Half of this amount was produced in that past 15 years alone. In terms of waste, less than 9% of the 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste generated up to 2015 has been recycled. 12% was incinerated and 79% was disposed of in landfills or the environment. If current trends continue unabated, the annual global production is estimated to increase from 350 million tons in 2017 to a staggering 2 billion tons by 2050. With this prospect, we cannot delay action.
Between 6 and 10% of global plastic production is released into the oceans, while one third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater. This waste contains chemicals and thus creates health issues linked with contamination. Microplastic waste may be fueling the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as plastic pollution facilitates increased gene exchange among bacteria by acting as a substrate for bacteria to grow and interact. Open burning of waste has been found to be the most significant source of emissions in the air of dioxins and furans, which are classified as carcinogens. This is a serious environmental and human health issue, particularly in developing countries.
To address plastic pollution holistically, a full life cycle approach and resources circularity understanding is needed. Preventative measures should be taken from the design stage, as well as in our consumption and production patterns.
To conclude, we should remind ourselves that we need a concerted and connected effort to address multifaceted challenges of plastics in the environment and their impact on all life on earth. We need to keep in mind that what is harmful to human health is also devastating for the rest of life on earth: plants, animals and productive bacteria and fungi, many of which are essential to food production and healthy decomposition and detoxification cycles in the environment. From a governance perspective, UNEP, the chemicals-related MEAs, SAICM, and others should continue working with their counterparts in the biodiversity community. We need to complement each other in our discussions on the Post-2020 Biodiversity and the Beyond 2020 Chemical frameworks and acknowledge the role of chemicals on biodiversity.
Environmental Health and Plastics | Jennifer DE FRANCE, WHO
Jennifer De France, member of the Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Team at WHO, joins us to speak on behalf of WHO and Maria Neira, who had to leave unexpectedly.
A key piece of work of WHO is the Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19, which was mentioned in the introductory remarks. Reestablishing our relationship with nature is a critical concept in considering the need to stopping pollution, including plastic pollution. Regarding the evidence of the health impacts on health, WHO published a report on microplastics in drinking-water in 2019 in response to the concerns around the issue. The report considered the risks of the plastic particles themselves, as well as of the chemicals and pathogens they carry.
WHO is now working on a wider report on exposure to microplastics from the wider environment, which will be published later this year. As microplastics are found everywhere, understanding total exposure is key to addressing health risks from plastics. Like to the report on drinking-water, we are looking at studies on occurrence and health effects while considering the quality of these studies. Interpreting the findings correctly is essential as this is a relatively new area of research.
A central recommendation that WHO is advocating and will continue to advocate for in these reports, regardless of the human health impacts, we need to address the plastic pollution problem. This needs to be done in a holistic perspective, from the manufacturing all the way to disposal. We always need to realize the increase in plastic production and recognize that microplastics in the environment will continue to increase.
The two reports mentioned also highlight key research needs for going forward. There needs to be more research in this emerging area. With limited resources, it is critical to identify what are the key research gaps. We also need to consider the interplay of risks from microplastics with other risks in the environment. It is critical to understand what the sources of plastic pollution are, in order to inform management action. This understanding is central to determine what are the most cost-effective actions to address the problem.
David Azoulay, CIEL: How are the various routes of exposure (ingestion, but also inhalation) considered in the current research and policy agenda? What would the speakers recommend to ensure consideration of full impacts of plastics (multiple exposure routes and full life-cycle considerations)?
Thava Palanisami: Current policy decisions should indeed consider total exposure. Based on the latest WHO report, there are two routes of exposure: ingestion and inhalation. While the ingestion route is well established in research, inhalation route is still an emerging topic. Therefore, we need more research in that area to better inform policy.
Paul Rose: I wonder when we would see our body burden tests being in a normal health check. This type of test allows to figure out what exactly you have in your body, including plastic, lead, mercury, etc. If these information were included in our usual health checks, voters would soon influence the way we do business!
Andrew Russell, Plastic Disclosure Project (Hong Kong): Shouldn’t we be applying the precautionary principle more vigorously to resist plastic, such as assuming that all additives are toxic, that no level of microplastics is safe in food, that no plastic is safe to transport under Basel unless proven otherwise?
Jennifer De France: Certainly, the precautionary principle is important and WHO follows the Rio Declaration on that matter. But that also considers cost-effectiveness: as we only have limited resources, we do not want to take away resources to address microplastics if it is diverted from more important issues. This is not to undermine the importance of the plastic issues, but we do need to have a prioritized agenda.
Sara Brosché: Considering the amount of hazardous additives that are being used in plastics, it is important to start replacing the most hazardous ones with safe ones. There, you have to apply the precautionary principle, looking at what are the indication of hazards of these replacements.
Monika MacDevette: There is a preponderance of evidence that shows that we should be doing better. We should be taking this science seriously and applying the precautionary principle. However, we need to understand why this is not always the case and to look at the successes to build not those. There are some initiatives to take on substitutes for hazardous chemicals and we need to promote such steps.
Christopher Faria: Producers, being in a growing and highly lucrative industry, should also be held accountable. Why not expand many global sites to recycle plastics?
Sara Brosché: Regarding the role of manufacturers, there are many opportunities to start using safe alternatives to hazardous additives, starting by the worst ones.
Monika MacDevette: Industry needs to step up and take a more proactive role to build innovative solution and expand on previous successes. Meanwhile, governments should create enabling environment for industries to do the right thing. We also need more scientific evidence to consolidate our actions. A good foundation is there for action, but we need more of it all.
Andy Clee, Plastic Free North Devon (UK): Most people understand the negative impact of plastic pollution on environmental health, but very few seem to make the connection with human health. Should we communicate these risks more?
Paul Rose: I always wonder why we, as a society, cannot get the news changed. For example, we have rolling lines at the bottom of the news with football scores or other latest news. Why could that latest news not be featuring key health messages? I would really like to see this happening, as I think this could go a long way to reeducate the public and help make smart decisions.
Valentina Sierra: The chemical cluster indeed needs more awareness raising to generate political will and consciousness. In that regard, the pressure of youth is very important. Additionally, it is critical that the scientific sector communicates better and in a simple way so everybody can understand the problem and its impacts.
Monika MacDevette: What is critical about awareness is not the amount of communication, but the type, quality and context that needs to be thought through. We have a preponderance of information, so we should emphasize the confidence we have in the science. We are always learning more, but we do have sufficient information to start taking steps, while we keep supporting new research.
Maria Neira: We need to keep up with constantly evolving science. At the same time, there is no reason not to start working on a micro-frame of public health, as we obviously need to reduce plastic use in our daily life. WHO will be moving into that global approach, while keeping up work to produce science on these specific issues. In any case, reducing plastic pollution will not be a regret option.
Conclusive statement | Miguel PEREZ-LA PLANTE, Switzerland
Today’s discussion revealed that we need to continue research on the human health impacts of plastics and that we need to put efforts into communicates that science to everyone. Meanwhile, action can already be taken. Plastics is a truly multi-stakeholder issues, which can only be solves if we act together. Stakeholders in different domains should thus work hand-in-hand. We need to do better; we need leadership; and we should go toward our goal.
In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.
The update on Plastics and the Environment provides relevant information and the most recent research, data and articles from the various organizations in international Geneva and other institutions around the world.
Plastics and Health
- Does plastic makes us sick? | Plastic Health Coalition
- Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta | Antonio Ragusa, Alessandro Svelato, et al. | Environment International | January 2021
- 7 Harmful Chemical Types in Plastics | IPEN & The Endoctrine Society | 2020
- Everyday Plastics Are Leaching Hazardous Chemicals | The Endoctrine Society | 18 December 2020
- Five Harmful Chemical to Watch Out For in Plastics | The Endoctrine Society | 16 December 2020
- Insights into nanoplastics effects on human health | MarianaTelesa, Joan Carles Balasch, et al. | Science Bulletin | 15 December 2020
- Plastics, EDCs & Health: Authoritative Guide | Endocrine Society and IPEN | 10 December 2020
- Human Health and Ocean Pollution | Philip J. Landrigan, John J. Stegeman, et al. | Annals of Global Health | 3 December 2020
- Plastic’s Toxic Additives and the Circular Economy | The Stockholm Regional Center (Barcelona), BRS MEAs, UNEP MAP & IPEN | 25 September 2020
- WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution | WHO | 22 August 2020
- Plastics Waste Poisons Indonesia’s Food Chain | IPEN | December 2019
- Is plastic a threat to your health? | Harvard Women’s Health Watch | December 2019
- What’s in your bathroom? The hidden plastics in your beauty products | UNEP News | 12 November 2019
- Revealed: plastic ingestion by people could be equating to a credit card a week | WWF | 12 June 2019
- Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet | CIEL | February 2019
- Bisphenol A and human health: a review of the literature | Rochester JR. Reprod Toxicol. 2013 Dec;42:132-55 | 30 August 2013
- Impact of plastics on human health and ecosystems | Arizona State University | 20 March 2010
- Components of plastic: experimental studies in animals and relevance for human health | Talsness, Chris E et al. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 364,1526: 2079-96 | 2009
- Inhaled cellulosic and plastic fibers found in human lung tissue | Pauly, J. L., Stegmeier, S. J., Allaart, H. A., Cheney, R. T., Zhang, P. J., Mayer, A. G., & Streck, R. J. | Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 7(5), 419–428 | 1998