Pollution and Waste

A child plays with a truck tire next to a ditch full of plastic waste

Plastics are here to stay. They are easy and inexpensive to make and have been a significant driver for development. But plastic waste has become an omnipresent threat - with public health, livelihoods and the environment all suffering. Plastic can take hundreds of thousands of years to decompose. The World Bank is committed to tackling plastic pollution, recognizing it as a key element in alleviating extreme poverty. Today the World Bank Group supports efforts in more than 50 countries around the globe and at every stage of the plastic lifecycle.

The FSO Safer

Moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, the FSO Safer is an aging supertanker in advanced state of decay that will soon break apart or explode if the world does not act.  The United Nations is ready to implement an emergency operation to prevent this disaster. But the work to transfer the oil to a safe vessel is already delayed because of insufficient funding. To bridge the funding gap and start the emergency operation, the United Nations is asking for contributions from members of the public. Donate now

175 nations endorsed a historic resolution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi to End Plastic Pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. Plastic production has risen exponentially in the last decades and now amounts to some 400 million tons per year– a figure set to double by 2040. The resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal.

e-waste demonstration

Only three per cent of Latin America’s e-waste is reported as collected through formal channels and treated in an environmentally sound manner, according to the Regional E-Waste Monitor for Latin-America.

oil spill

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send experts and sophisticated monitoring equipment to help Peru assess and limit the environmental damage from a major oil spill in its coastal waters.

On the left: Artificial turf football field with ground tyre rubber used for cushioning. On the right: Microplastics from the same field, washed away by rain.

Discarded plastic in the ocean has garnered a lot of media attention, but terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than marine microplastic pollution.

A boat at sea with empty plastic bottles inside seen from above.

UNEP brings us the murky truth about plastic in the ocean: Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. Join 113,637 other people and take the Clean Sean Pledge.

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.