Reversing the plastics crisis through a human rights approach

March 30, 2022 @ 10:00am (AKDT)

CHE-Alaska’s March 30 webinar was a presentation on The Stages of the Plastics Cycle and their Impacts on Human Rights from the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, Dr. Marcos Orellana. His most recent report to the UN General Assembly is on the plastics cycle and human rights (link to full report in resource list below).

The report by the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that “the global plastics crisis necessitates a worldwide, human rights-based solution and describes the current and future adverse effects to health and human rights created at each stage of the plastics cycle, from production to use and disposal. Additives to plastics – to make them stronger, more flexible, or UV resistant – have been found to be toxic and have widespread adverse effects on environmental and human health. Plastics are a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate warming.

The UN report states:

Safeguarding the human rights of present and future generations that are compromised by the growing toxification of the planet demands that the international community reverse the plastics crisis. Addressing the negative impacts of the plastics cycle on human rights and integrating a human rights-based approach to plastics policy are indispensable for effective and legitimate solutions to the global plastics problem.”

The report also describes the vulnerable situations and populations who endure the disproportionate adverse effects – Indigenous peoples, workers, people of African descent, women, children, people living in poverty, future generations. For example, the production and disposal of plastics is unjustly concentrated near low-income communities and communities of color. This includes the production of toxic chemicals used as plastics additives, many of which are transported on atmospheric and ocean currents and concentrate in higher latitudes, bioaccumulating in Arctic environments, and contaminating the traditional foods of Arctic peoples, including Alaskans.

The UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights highlights in the report that: “Plastics contain toxic additives, over 10,000 according to a recent study, posing severe risks and harms to human rights and the environment. Harmful chemicals are added to plastics at every stage in the plastics cycle, and their deleterious impact will grow as plastics production and use increases.”

As an alternative to the toxic and harmful plastic cycle, the UN Special Rapporteur recommends a human rights-based approach for transitioning to a chemically safe circular economy and presents detailed steps and recommendations to make this a reality and a success. These include transparency and right-to-know about what is in plastics, the right to participate in decision making around the plastics cycle, precautionary and polluter pays principles, and extended producer responsibility. The toxicity of plastics and the harmful effects of the plastic cycle may preclude plastics from a chemically safe future.

This report is free to all and at 24 pages, is an accessible resource. I encourage you to read it.

Featured speakers

Dr. Marcos A. Orellana is the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights (full title – Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes). He was appointed to this position in August 2020. Dr Orellana is an expert in international law and the law on human rights and the environment. His practice as legal advisor has included work with United Nations agencies, governments, Indigenous peoples, and non-governmental organizations.

Read Dr Orellana’s full bio on the UN’s website –

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