The “illegal waste” of housing the human body – Another public health crisis in developing countries

Microplastics, tiny particles less than 5 mm, are everywhere, including in our bodies. In 2018, they were detected for the first time in human faeces. In March 2022, they were also found in human lungs and blood. They enter our bodies through the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. As they accumulate over time, there are many reasons to be concerned about the possible effects on our health.

Why are microplastics everywhere?

Between 1950 and 2020, annual plastic production has increased from 1.5 million metric tons to 367 million metric tons. Cumulatively, global production exceeds 8 billion metric tons. This includes plastic for packaging (36%), construction (16%) and textile manufacturing (14%).

Plastic is convenient, versatile and cheap, but the huge volume produced far exceeds our ability to handle plastic waste safely, especially in developing countries, due to illegal dumping and lack of adequate management systems. garbage. Currently, only 9% of the plastic used is recycled because not all types of plastic can be recycled. About 20% is burned, leading to a host of health issues depending on the performance and safety of the combustion methods used, ranging from open fires to incinerators. The other 70% ends up in landfills and dumps or as litter on sidewalks, in rivers, forests and oceans.

According to a 2021 analysis, 81% of global plastic enters our oceans from Asia. Southeast Asia, for example, is a major contributor to land-based plastic waste leakage into the world’s oceans, with 6 out of 10 ASEAN member states generating a total of 31 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. Once it enters the environment, plastic is difficult to clean. It is durable and easily blends into its environment. It remains in the environment for over 500 years, slowly breaking down into microplastics that move almost freely through water and air. The plastic is then ingested by humans, fish, turtles or birds and sometimes animals become entangled in it and die.

How to respond to the plastic waste crisis

The plastic crisis calls for sustained and collective efforts to do things differently to ultimately create a zero-waste circular economy. Since plastic production far exceeds processing capabilities, it is crucial to drastically reduce its production and use. The measures should mainly target single-use plastics such as bags, straws and packaging, which are thrown away immediately after use. Single-use plastics are only useful for a few minutes, but their negative effects last for decades, even centuries.

Regulatory measures, along with financial incentives and disincentives, have been applied to reduce the production of single-use plastics and accelerate innovative solutions, such as the shift from single-use plastics to multi-use plastics and sustainable alternatives and the design of easily recyclable products. . To date, more than 127 countries have introduced regulatory measures, including bans, taxes and levies on single-use plastic. The governments of Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have adopted circular economy strategies to prioritize plastics-related policies and investments.

Undoubtedly, good governance is part of the solution, but cooperation and support from businesses and consumers must follow. Around the world, awareness and information campaigns are aimed at behavioral changes, such as the adoption of sustainable consumption and the promotion of recycling and alternatives to plastic.

Now is the time to take local and global action for transformational change to reduce plastic addiction and ensure a safe and sustainable planet, for our health, survival and prosperity.

Alissar Chaker is Resident RepresentativeUnited Nations Development Program in Cambodia
Moeko Saito Jensen is Environmental Policy SpecialistUnited Nations Development Program in Cambodia

The article was originally published in the World Economic Forum.

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