If we get this right – if we win the battle against plastic pollution – it will not only be a tangible victory for people and planet, but a clear example of how the United Nations is relevant to the lives of citizens around the world.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS, PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Plastic bags used each year
Tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year
Barrels of oil used for plastic production each year
Plastic bottles bought every minute
plastic in environment
Marine animals killed by plastics each year
Years for plastic to degrade in the environment
Of bottled water found to contain plastic particles
Of tap water found to contain plastic particles
Of consumer plastics are single use
Of all human-generated waste is plastic
How Do We #BeatPlasticPollution?
The advent of plastic revolutionized every aspect of human existence; plastics can be found on the international space station, in medical equipment, in educational materials and in arguably every job and livelihood on the planet.
Yet, decades of overuse and a surge in short-lived, single-use plastics, has led to a global, environmental catastrophe. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastics are being swept into the oceans annually and gyres, or so-called ‘islands of plastic’, are blossoming. While most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades or centuries after use, those that do erode end up as micro-plastics, consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, quickly making their way into the global food chain. Indeed, micro-plastics have been found everywhere from the Artic to the Swiss mountains, in tap water and in human feces.
It has become abundantly clear that the issue of single-use plastics has led to a global crisis, the scope and scale of which is only now becoming evident.
For this reason, the President of the UN General Assembly has included the issue of plastic pollution as a priority during the 73rd Session. Working together with Member States, UN agencies, civil society groups, and the private sector, President Espinosa intends to support efforts that help reduce plastic consumption, raise awareness, and support efforts to find global, regional and local solutions.
What We Need To Do
To beat plastic pollution, we need to entirely rethink our approach to designing, producing and using plastic products. We need solutions that lead to sustainable behaviour change. Two elements are key to this: (1) global awareness and advocacy; and (2) strong policies and leadership.
The President of the General Assembly’s campaign against plastic pollution will seek to enhance awareness to the challenges and opportunities; advocate for consumer action; and urge leadership from world leaders. Key activities include:
PLAY IT OUT
A festival against plastic pollution
PLANET OR PLASTIC
A photo exhibit at the United Nations
GETTING THE UN IN ORDER
Addressing plastic waste at the UN
Play It Out
PLAY IT OUT: Festival to #BeatPlasticPollution
From plastic straws to plastic bags, consumers are at the frontline of the effort to #BeatPlasticPollution. To help raise awareness, the President of the General Assembly partnered with the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, and Norway, as well as UN Environment, UNOPS, the Krimm Group (TKG), Lonely Whale, and National Geographic to help raise awareness to this global challenge.
‘Play it Out’ is a festival against plastic pollution. Hosted by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and sponsored by the Government of Norway, the festival gathered musicians and artists from around the world and together with policy leaders, innovators, and celebrity guests, helped ‘ring the closing bell’ on plastic use.
In addition to supporting global advocacy, ‘Play it Out’ recognized concrete initiatives that are helping to address the problem, including UN Environment’s ‘Clean Seas Campaign’, as well as help accelerate action on the Caribbean Plastic Action Plan.
The ‘Play it Out’ festival took place on 1 June 2019 at the Sir Vivian Richards National Stadium in Antigua and it was live-streamed globally.
Planet or plastic
PLANET OR PLASTIC
National Geographic, a world leader in both capturing stunning imagery as well as telling stories relevant to the environment, partnered with the President of the General Assembly to launch their new photo installation ‘Planet or Plastic’ at the United Nations General Assembly.
This exhibit, which was supported with funding from the Government of Monaco, effectively ‘tells the story of plastics’. In doing so, the exhibit strives to highlight how this simple material reshaped both global industries and everyday life, and how it has become such an important component of life on earth. At the same time, the exhibit will draw attention to the problems in our consumption and production patterns, showcasing how disposable and single use plastics – some used for mere seconds but lasting for centuries – are overwhelming our planet and jeopardizing the health and well-being of people and of ecosystems around the globe.
The UN was the first stop on a global tour for the ‘Planet or Plastic’ exhibit. The exhibit was showcased in the Visitor’s Centre of the UN General Assembly from 25 May until 24 June 2019. A special event was held on the evening of 4 June.
GETTING THE HOUSE IN ORDER
GETTING THE HOUSE IN ORDER
The President of the General Assembly recognizes that the UN must practice what it preaches and is intent on pushing the agenda forward on a plastic-free UN. Working closely with the Office of the Secretary General and the Department of Management, the President hopes to encourage staff and visitors to the UN to reduce the use of single-use plastics while on premises.
Looking to UN offices around the world that have already made remarkable success, including Nairobi, Bangkok and Geneva, the President hopes to launch an advocacy campaign throughout the month of June that would encourage staff to ‘ditch the plastic’. At the same time, and working with Management, vendors and suppliers will be encouraged not to stock or procure plastic materials.
The overall goal of the President during the short, 1-year term, is to lay a strong foundation for her successors to carry forward with this process, eventually eliminating all plastic waste from the United Nations General Assembly.