UNEP reports assess impacts of global plastic pollution, potential solutions


Two publications from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provide overview and assessment of global challenges related to marine litter and plastic waste; include set of infographics summarizing key thematic areas; book chapter proposes organizing diverse problem formulations and potential solutions to plastic pollution into a conceptual framework, considers necessary value judgments and world views

On October 21, 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published two reports focused on providing “a complete overview of the global challenges related to marine litter and plastic waste” including an assessment of the “the magnitude and severity of marine litter and plastic pollution” as well as a review of “existing solutions and actions.” The first report, “Drowning in Plastics,” contains a large set of graphic illustrations and condensed descriptions that summarize the current state of key thematic areas including the plastic life cycle, plastic additives, sources of microplastics, human health impacts, economic costs, as well as pros and cons of biodegradable plastics. The section on plastic additives contains an infographic illustrating the presence of hazardous chemicals in plastics based on a 2018 study carried out by the Food Packaging Forum (FPF reported).

UNEP’s second report, “From Pollution to Solution,” provides a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution to present the impacts on the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and humans. The assessment concludes that there is a “need for urgent, global action” and that “while we have the know-how, we need the political will and urgent action to tackle this mounting crisis.” The report provides a detailed review of environmental, health, economic, and social impacts and risks, as well as an overview of sources and pathways of plastic pollution, monitoring methods and programs, and a set of challenges, responses, innovations, and opportunities to address the problem.

In a recent book chapter, Martin Wagner, professor of biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), discusses the importance of developing a conceptual framework to better organize and select from the diverse problem formulations and potential solutions that are promoted by different actors to address global plastic pollution. He argues that deciding on which solutions are most desirable is not a purely rational choice, but the considerations are instead “inherently linked to value judgments and worldviews that must, therefore, be part of an open and inclusive debate to facilitate solving the wicked problem of plastic pollution.” The chapter is part of a larger open access book published by Springer Nature focusing on microplastics in the environment.

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~sFood Packaging Forum, 25 October 2021