Many actors in Geneva are actively working to address the plastic crisis at the global and local level. As a hub of environmental and health governance, Geneva plays an important role in the multilateral processes to address plastic pollution. This page is part of our Plastics and the Environment series, a set of online resources on the plastics crisis, its impact on people and the environment, and international cooperation to address this global problem. They include resources and news from organizations in Geneva and beyond, including UN-system organizations and other IOs, governmental authorities, civil society organizations, academic institutions and journals, and renowned newspapers.
As a global hub for environmental governance, Geneva plays an important role in the global response to plastic pollution. With leading organizations on environmental issues, chemical governance, health, human rights and many relevant areas of work, Geneva hosts a strong expertise to contribute to global processes to end plastic pollution. Geneva also hosted the first ever Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in September 2021. The page offers an overview of the actors involved in these efforts, both at the global and local level.
The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues
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. By presenting latest research, achievements and governance options, the dialogues dialogues aim to facilitate further engagement and discussion among the stakeholders in International Geneva and beyond. As such, they support coordinated approaches to address the plastic crisis that can lead to more efficient decision making.
The dialogues serve as a platform to encourage increased engagement of the Geneva community and actors across the world in the run-up to various global environmental negotiations related to plastics. The series started in November 2020 with events in preparation to the first segment of the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.1) in early 2021. A second series of dialogues was organized in the fall of 2021 in the run-up to the second segment of UNEA-5, where the historic resolution to end plastic pollution was adopted. The dialogues now continue to support these processes with events to prepare for the international negotiations for the treaty, as well as linked to other major events in international environment governance, including the UN Ocean Conference, the BRS COPs, SAICM ICCM5, and more.
The third series of dialogues is 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, IUCN, Norway, Switzerland, the Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs (TESS) and the University of Geneva.
Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous waste. In May 2019, the 14th Conference of the Parties adopted the Plastic Waste Amendments to enhance the control over the transboundary movements of plastic waste. The amendments entered into force in January 2021. The Basel Convention also established a Plastic Waste Partnership to mobilise interests and resources and improve the promotion of environmentally sound management of plastic waste.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) also provides a relevant international framework that addresses some of the chemical additives to plastics. Aimed at protecting health and the environment, the Stockholm Convention lists toxic substances that must be regulated or eliminated. Currently, some flame-retardants and perflourinated chemicals commonly used in plastics are listed, and various other chemicals are under discussion.
In response to UNEA resolution 5/14 and the launch of the work of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions commissioned an independent report on Global Governance of Plastics and Associated Chemicals. The document provides the first comprehensive mapping of the existing global governance landscape for plastics and associated chemicals and offers insights into gaps and opportunities to strengthen plastics governance, which is currently insufficient for meeting the ambition of ending plastic pollution.
CARE is an international humanitarian organization fighting global poverty and world hunger by working alongside women and girls. CARE is committed to address plastic pollution in its humanitarian work. For example, the project CAMP+ in Uganda, aims to address the problem of increasing plastic litter present in the settlement and surrounding communities. Plastic waste is collected and turned into valuable products, thus providing employment opportunities for the local community in the circular economy.
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) aims to promote human rights and ensure a just and sustainable society by using the power of law to ensure environmental protection. The organisation is engaged in actions to address the global plastics crisis. Its work on plastics focuses on advocacy for an international treaty on plastic pollution, support to communities who fight against local infrastructure for plastics, and research and publications exposing the impacts of the plastic lifecycle on health, climate and the planet.
Food and Agriculture Organization Geneva Office
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations is a specialised agency working to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. Plastic pollution is a topic addressed by the FAO because of the ubiquitous presence of plastic in agricultural soils and the threat it poses to food security, human health and the environment. In 2021, the FAO published a report titled “Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and Their Sustainability: A Call for Action”, stressing that attention should be paid to the high contamination and amount of plastic pollutants in the agricultural land used to grow food. While the FAO headquarters are located in Rome, the FAO has a liaison office in Geneva.
Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs
The Forum on Trade, Environment and Sustainable Development (TESS) is involved in trade policy action to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It seeks to strengthen the promotion and inclusion of international cooperation on trade policies that contribute to efforts to reduce plastic pollution, build waste management capacity in developing countries and promote plastic substitutes.
Geneva Cities Hub
The Geneva Cities Hub aims to connect the international Geneva ecosystem with public policies and all relevant stakeholders. In January 2022, the Geneva Cities Hub, the Geneva Environment Network and the UN-Habitat Geneva Office, with the support of Norway, organised the first Geneva Urban Debate 2022 to promote the voice of local and regional governments in the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) proceedings on plastics.
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime
The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime is an independent civil-society organization, that comprises prominent law-enforcement, governance and development practitioners who are dedicated to seeking new and innovative strategies and responses to organized crime, including on tracing illicit plastic waste flows, supply chains and actors.
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) works to ensure humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and other situations of violence. As plastic pollution represents a considerable challenge in humanitarian action, the ICRC engages with the issue through multiple projects targeting plastic waste prevention and management, packaging reduction and optimisation, packaging recycling, product eco-design and quality assurance, assistance programmes and circular economy, and sustainable alternatives and end of life management.
International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is dedicated to promoting social justice and internationally recognised human and labour rights. Thtough its Green jobs programme, the ILO promotes a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies. The ILO Chemicals Convention provides a basis for the sound management of all types of chemicals at the workplace, and is also relevant with regards to chemicals used in the plastics industry.
International Organization for Standardization
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is one of the largest organisation developing standards and has around 700 standards dealing with plastics. ISO is committed to improving resource efficiency, reducing the amount of waste released into the environment and promoting the development of a circular economy based on the optimal use of resources. In 2018, ISO published guidelines for the inclusion of environmental aspects in standards on plastics.
International Union for Conservation of Nature
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union of governments and civil society organisations, working together to advance sustainable development and nature conservation. IUCN leads various project marine plastic pollution and conducts advocacy work for a global plastics treaty.
The Oak Foundation works with partners to address the plastic crisis. The foundation has adopted several principles to stop some of the plastic consumption and production, in this case, through zero waste, and seeks to stop plastic pollution in the oceans. Furthermore, the foundation is committed to working for justice for those most affected by plastic production and waste.
Founded in 2001, Oceana is the largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on oceanic conservation. It works to win strategic, directed campaigns that achieve measurable results to help make oceans more bio-diverse and abundant. Oceana leads several advocacy campaign to implement stronger regulations on single-use plastics and to support plastics reduction initiatives.
Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials
The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) is an independent organisation that promotes the development of a new global bioeconomy through sustainable solutions. The RSB organises events, including discussions on the role of the bioeconomy in combating plastic pollution.
The Sea Cleaners
The SeaCleaners is a a global NGO fighting for a pollution-free ocean. The SeaCleaners Swiss proposes solutions to combat plastic pollution and seeks to unite people through actions and volunteer involvement. For example, it organises various clean-up and collection events and awareness-raising workshops.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
The UN Conference on Trade and Development aims to build a blue economy by working with governments to ensure trade is part of the solution to the climate crisis. Under the Bridgetown Compact adopted in October 2021, UNCTAD is mandated to “address the dumping of plastic and other waste in the oceans and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds and ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) considers the adverse environmental and socio-economic impacts caused by plastic pollution as a disaster aggravator and conversely disasters-hit population make a higher use of single-use plastics objects, contributing to plastic pollution. UNDRR advocates for the inclusion of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (2015-2030) princ2iple of risk-informed decision-making in the negotiated plastic pollution treaty, since reducing plastic pollution can contribute to reducing the risk of disasters (particularly caused by flooding and storms) and negative environmental, economic and social consequences. In addition, plastic pollution can in and of itself be characterized as a slow-onset disaster originating from a technological hazard.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Chemicals and Health Branch
The Chemicals and Health Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme works closely with governments, industries and civil society organisations worldwide to develop global solutions for robust management of chemicals and waste. It leads the Beat Pollution campaign and provides resources and campaigns to reduce plastic pollution. UNEP’s work on toxic chemicals is highly relevant to plastic pollution in the context of chemical additives.
UNEP Finance Initiative
UNEP FI supports the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative, a global community convened by the UN that addresses the relationship between private finance and oceanic health, supporting the implementation of blue economy principles consistent with the SDGs and seeking to enable financial institutions to restore prosperity, biodiversity and the health of the oceans. In November 2019, UNEP FI published “Unwrapping the Risks of Plastic Pollution to the Insurance Industry”, a report linking plastic pollution risks and insurance and investment portfolios in the form of physical, transition, liability and reputational risks.
United Nations Environment Management Group (UN EMG)
In 2017, the UN Environment Management Group (EMG) created the Task Team on Marine Litter and Microplastics, in order to contribute to the Ah-hoc Expert Group (AHEG) created at UNEA-3. The task team aims to broaden the involvement of the UN system and strengthen the coordination of support to Member States in addressing the global challenge of marine litter. The outcome of this work was published in the report titled “Addressing Marine Litter and Microplastics – UN System-Wide Contributions: Synthesis Report of the UN Environment Management Group”. The EMG report “An Overview of UN Activities and Initiatives Related to Marine Litter and Microplastics” highlights the importance of adopting a life-cycle approach to dealing with marine litter and microplastics and explains that the UN needs to strengthen information exchange among its different entities to maximise its impact.
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council recognised that hazardous substances and wastes could seriously threaten human rights. This growing threat has been particularly felt through the exponential acceleration of chemical production. The Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes (SR Toxics) is mandated by the United Nations to examine the human rights implications of toxic and other hazardous substances. In July 2021, the SR Toxics presented a report to the UN General Assembly on the “The stages of the plastics cycle and their impacts on human rights“, highlighting how every stage of the plastic lifecycle affects human rights and why human rights principles can and should be involved in the transition towards a chemically safe circular economy.
United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) provides innovative learning solutions to individuals, organizations and institutions to enhance global decision-making and support country-level action for shaping a better future, including on plastic pollution and solutions. UNITAR’s Chemicals and Waste Management Programme provides support to governments and stakeholders to strengthen their institutional, technical, and legal infrastructure and capacities for sound management of chemicals. To support the plastics treaty under negotiations, UNITAR suggested potential areas for intersessional work like considering the potential scope of and guidance for
National Action Plans (including optional and/or suggested elements), to identify capacity building and training needs for each Member.
World Bank Group Geneva Office
The World Bank is a key source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries worldwide. It supports countries in all regions in their efforts to address plastic pollution, at every stage of the plastic lifecycle, from stopping leakages to the environment to enabling a circular economy. For instance, the PROBLUE programme supports the sustainable blue economy, including by assessing the plastic value chains and promote investments in sustainable alternatives and solutions to plastic pollution.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) a founding partner of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. The initiative gathers companies that make, use, sell, process, collect and recycle plastics. This cross-value chain initiative provides a framework for companies dedicated to fighting plastic waste in the environment. WBCSD aims to offer a discussion platform to promote the engagement of the business community in the negotiations on the new plastics treaty.
World Economic Forum (WEF)
The World Economic Forum (WEF) hosts the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) which brings together governments, businesses and civil society to translate commitments into meaningful action at both the global and national levels to eradicate plastic pollutoin. The WEF also leads the Consumers Beyond Waste initiative, working with partners to scale up reuse models that will eliminate plastic waste.
World Health Organization (WHO)
In August 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the report “Microplastics in Drinking Water” about the potential impact of microplastics in drinking water on human health. This report made recommendations for managing microplastics and monitoring plastics in the environment. Important knowledge gaps were identified to best assess the risks to human health and develop appropriate management measures.
World Trade Organization (WTO)
In November 2020, a group of WTO members launched the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade (IDP) to explore how the WTO could contribute to efforts to reduce plastics pollution and promote the transition to more environmentally sustainable trade in plastics. In December 2021, the Members issued a Ministerial Statement on plastic pollution, highlight the key areas of work for the IDP.
World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) is fighting for a world without plastic in nature by 2030, a world where oceans teem with marine life, not discarded nets, bottles and bags, a world where no humans breathe the toxic fumes of burning plastic and where every essential plastic product is recycled. WWF is leading the activation hub ReSource Plastic, which helps some of the world’s largest companies translate ambitious plastic commitments into measurable change.
Reducing Plastic Waste Within International Geneva
The United Nations Office in Geneva is taking steps to eliminate single-use plastics from its premises. These efforts are part of the Greening the Blue campaign led by UNEP, which aims to support the UN System in the transition towards greater environmental sustainability in the management of its facilities and operations.
The company Eldora, which serves more than 15 million meals a year and manages the cafeteria in the Palais des Nations among others, has banned straws, coffee sticks, and plastic cups from its locations. The company is following in the footsteps of public authorities in the fight against single-use plastics.
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Various institutes and labs at the EPFL are conducting research of relevance to the plastic crisis. EPFL researchers have for example conducted studies on new recycling methods for plastic waste and bio-based plastics. The EPFL also aims to improve the sustainability of its own operations, including on sustainable procurement and waste. The SV Sustainability Office at EPFL’s School of Life Sciences is leading a Green lab initiatives focused on reducing the environmental footprint of labs. It provides advice to research to reduce the use of single-use plastics and support student initiatives on recycling.
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies
The Global Governance Centre promotes critical reflection on the institutions, orthodoxies and practices that shape and organise global governance. Among other topics, the centre conducts research on the global political economy and regulation of plastic production and pollution.
University of Geneva
The Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences is conducting research on the status and impacts of plastic pollution. In particular, the Pla’Stock project evaluated the status of plastic pollution in the Lake of Geneva.
Local Authorities and Associations
While not located in Geneva, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment provides useful resources on plastic pollution in the environment and the government’s actions at the national and international level. Read more.
Association de Sauvegarde du Léman
The Association for the Safeguard of Lake Geneva (ASL) is a joint French and Swiss non-profit organisation, aiming to safeguard the water quality and aquatic ecosystems of the area around the Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), including both the lake itself and its many rivers. Every year, the ASL leads the action Net’Léman, a large clean-up action of the lake and its coast. To address the problem of microplastics in the Lake, the ASL commissioned Dr Julien Boucher to model the flow of plastics in Lake Geneva. The results were compared with data from the field, and the full study was published as an article in Trends in Analytical Chemistry in 2018. The study also appeared as an article in issue 110 of our journal Lémaniques.
City of Geneva
Since 2020, the city of Geneva has banned single-use plastics from all activities happening in the public domain.
City of Bernex
In September 2022, in partnership with the association Urban Training, the city of Bernex is organizing an urban plogging, a combination of jogging and rubbish collection. This activity has expanded due to growing concerns about plastic pollution.
City of Carouge
The City of Carouge has taken up the challenge of Zero Waste with the objective to reduce solid waste by 30% over 3 years. It seeks to reduce the carbon footprint and to fight together against the depletion of resources and pollution. Zero Waste is a behavior that starts before recycling to avoid the production of waste, as the best waste is the one that is never produced. In 2022, the City of Carouge launched the Lunch Zero Waste initiative, encouraging citizens to give up on single-use plastic.
Canton of Geneva
The Canton of Geneva has banned the free distribution of plastic bags since 2019. The new law on waste adopted in August 2022 states aims to reduce waste generation, and addresses specifically single-use plastic, which should ultimately be banned. Single-use plastic items in restaurants and take-out services will be banned from January 2025. A campaign to promote the use of reusable containers has been launched in collaboration with the City of Geneva and the SIG. The Canton of Geneva also set up a Swiss Sustainable Procurement Toolbox, a practical guide for public authorities. It presents the basics of sustainable procurement, evaluation tools, and methods as well as information on product groups and materials.
International Commission for the Protection of the Waters of Lake Geneva (CIPEL)
Since 2014, the International Commission for the Protection of the Waters of Lake Geneva (CIPEL), has been commissioning scientists to investigate the presence of plastic particles in lake sediments. The CIPEL investigates on the tributaries and the consequences of plastic for living organisms.
Global Shapers Geneva
The Global Shapers Community is an initiative of the World Economic Forum to gather engaged youth people and create positive impact on communities. As part of their many activities, the Global Shapers Geneva organise regular Lake Clean Ups, in collaboration with the Graduate Institute Water Initiative & environmental committee. Volunteers keep tacks of type and quantity of waste collected through the app developed by the Association de Sauvegarde du Léman.
Oceaneye is a Geneva-based non-profit organization founded in 2010 and pursuing two main objectives: provide information and raise global awareness on the threats of oceans’ plastic pollution; and contribute to scientific research by collecting data, helping and supporting the work of the scientific community. Oceaneye scientific research includes monitoring the plastics in river ecosystems around Geneva.
Plastic in Lake Leman | Association pour la Sauvegarde du Léman, 2019
Further Resources on Plastics, Geneva and Switzerland
- Plastic levels in Swiss-French lake as high as world’s oceans| Reuters | 26 August 2023
- Oceaneye publie son étude sur la pollution microplastique du Rhône : Plus de 880 millions de particules quitteraient le Léman via le fleuve chaque année | Oceaneye | 16 March 2023
- Switzerland and Ecuador Appeal for Treaty to End the ‘Plastic Crisis’ | John Heilprin | Health Policy Watch | 17 January 2023
- Plastic Matters. A state of affairs, facts, legislation & recommended actions in Switzerland | OceanCare | December 2022
More on the Plastics Crisis
Our special series “Plastics and the Environment” provides resources on the status of the global plastic pollution, its impact on people and the environment, and international cooperation to address the plastics crisis.