Pollution and Waste

illustration of various types of plastic pollution: bottles, tires, clothes

Even the planet's most remote and inaccessible environments, such as the Mariana trench and Mount Everest, contain tiny pieces of plastic from human activities miles away. Plastics are the largest, most harmful, and persistent fraction of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 per cent of total marine waste. UNEP’s global assessment: From Pollution to Solution, shows that there is a growing threat in all ecosystems from source to sea. Without urgent action, the estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic currently entering the ocean annually will triple in the next twenty years.

solid-waste management plant

Residents of the Hlaing Thar Yar township and surrounding areas hope a UN-Habitat solid waste management project will prevent deadly fires by lower methane emissions.

An industrial plant in the desert emitting black smoke

The first UNEP Global Assessment of Air Pollution Legislation presents the findings of a study of air quality legislation in more than 194 countries. Using the Air Quality Guidelines developed by WHO, the report examines the legal measures for determining whether air quality standards are being met and what legal standards exist for failure to meet them. The Assessment provides recommendations to assist countries in strengthening air quality governance and serves as a resource for countries wishing to effectively address air pollution and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.

hands sifting sand on a platter under water

UNEP celebrates the anniversary of 132 parties working together to disrupt the trade, raise public awareness, build institutional capacity, and create mercury-free products.

Illustration of an oil well surrounded by plastic.

Every year, the toxic trail of economic growth – pollution and waste – results in the premature deaths of millions of people while doing untold damage to the planet. Plastic poses a big problem from source extraction to waste. Not only to the environment, but also to human beings and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Would you like to know how? Find out with this animation! UNEP supports strong laws and institutions for a healthy planet and healthy people.

Man carrying plastic water containers.

The Global Commitment to the New Plastics Economy campaign is making progress but the world needs to ramp up actions to curb plastic pollution. Humanity dumps its own combined weight in plastics annually into ecosystems. That’s 300 million tonnes every year choking waterways and seas, clogging streets, harming wildlife, and causing damage to public health. To stem that tide, UNEP and partner lobbied private and public sector decisionmakers to commit to cultivating a circular economy around plastics, one in which plastics are made to last and to be reused.

discarded electronic equipment

Discarded electrical and electronic equipment (such as phones, laptops, fridges, sensors and TVs), known as e-waste, is a growing challenge, matching the growth of the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. There are currently more mobile cellular subscriptions on Earth than there are humans. E-waste contains substances that can be hazardous to human health and the environment if not dealt with properly – including mercury, cadmium and lead. Improper e-waste management can also contribute to global warming. The goal is a system in which all discarded products are collected and then the materials or components reintegrated into new products.

Skyscrapers surrounded by smog.

All you need to know about air pollution

A facemask on the ground as trash.

While national and local interventions are largely focused on protecting lives and economies during COVID-19, management of hazardous waste is also essential to minimize long-term risks to human and environmental health. A UNEP new publication - Waste Management during the COVID-19 Pandemic: from response to recovery - reviews current practices for managing waste from healthcare facilities, households and quarantine locations accommodating people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

A big vessel on the water appears as if it may sink.

Helping mitigate the impacts of an oil spill in Mauritius

oil tanker

Often close to world shipping lanes, small island and coastal nations are at particular risk from oil spills. Reliant on the marine environment and its biodiversity for tourism, fishing and aquaculture, islanders face an existential threat when oil spills happen in their waters. This is why the environmental crisis unfolding in Mauritius brings into focus the international legal framework in place to provide support when ship-source environmental disasters strike.

UNESCO reports that Trash Hacks are small changes you can make that will help the planet in a big way. Becoming a Trash Hacker will help you to learn about waste, take action to tackle trash and inspire others to do the same. #TrashHack your life and reduce your impact. Be part of the solution.

Sea turtle swims among discarded facemasks.

Even though Coronavirus lockdowns around the globe have led to a dramatic 5% drop in greenhouse gas emissions, not all measures have had a positive impact on the environment. Our streets, beaches and ocean have been hit by a tidal wave of plastic waste including face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles and food packaging. Global trade policies could play an important role in the fight against plastic pollution. Besides regulating the production and consumption of plastics, UNCTAD also urges governments and businesses to identify non-fossil fuel plastic substitutes.