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Call to halt plastic pollution health crisis

Companies selling single-use plastic in developing countries must change their business models to halt a health crisis that kills a person every 30 seconds, international relief and development agency Tearfund has said.

In a report No Time to Waste: Tackling the Plastic Pollution Crisis Before it’s Too Late – supported by naturalist Sir David Attenborough – it said people were killed at such a rate from diseases caused by plastic pollution and rubbish.

Environmental charity WasteAid, which endorsed the report, said it showed the scale of plastic pollution made it impossible to solve the problem solely by recycling.

Each year between 400,000 and one million people died from conditions including diarrhoea, malaria and cancers caused by living near uncollected waste and plastic pollution.

Open-air burning of plastic and rubbish in developing countries also added to carbon emissions.The report said global plastic production emitted 400 million tonnes of greenhouses gases each year, with between eight and 12.7 million tonnes of plastics entering the oceans annually.

In places where rubbish is not collected, it can build up in waterways to cause disease or else is burnt in the streets creating dangerous polluting fumes.

Tearfund said companies should commit to reporting the number of single-use plastic items they distribute in developing countries by 2020, and to halving this by 2025 while, by 2022, they should ensure one single-use plastic item is collected for every one sold.

Sir David said: “It is high time we turn our attention fully to one of the most pressing problems of today – averting the plastic pollution crisis – not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world.”

Ruth Valerio, global advocacy and influencing director at Tearfund, called in particular for action from Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.

She said: “These companies sell billions of products in single-use plastic packaging in poorer countries where waste is not collected, in the full knowledge that people will have no choice but to burn it, discard it in waterways or live among it.”

Zoë Lenkiewicz, head of programmes and engagement at WasteAid, said: “The problems caused by plastic packaging waste are universal, with people and wildlife everywhere being seriously affected.

“Large companies place vast amounts of single-use plastic into communities that do not have waste management, with significant and growing planetary health impacts. As this report shows, we cannot recycle our way out of plastic pollution – we need systemic change.”

 

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