Did you know that pollution is responsible for millions of premature deaths each year? While toxic chemicals that cause air pollution are primarily responsible for this quota, plastic pollution is increasingly becoming a serious global environmental and public health concern. The risks that plastic pollution imposes to human health and to the health of natural environments stem from the production, consumption and end-of-life management of plastic materials, which often involve open-burned plastic waste, plastics being dumped in oceans and waterways, and micro-plastics working their way into humans’ bodies. While the international community is increasingly educated about the growing threat of plastic pollution, international agendas need to pay more attention to preventing pollution-associated health risks.
In response to this growing crisis, a new workforce has emerged in many low- and middle-income countries including Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand and India. An estimated 15 million informal waste pickers work around the world at the frontlines of the plastic waste crisis. These workers—primarily women, children, and elderly people—are among the most exposed and vulnerable people to the health risks of plastic pollution. Despite their indisputable contribution to the reduction of plastic pollution, they remain mostly invisible in the plastic lifecycle, and as a result are increasingly organizing themselves in a variety of ways, from starting microenterprises to forming cooperatives or joining public-private partnerships. This important side event serves as a deep dive into the world of frontline waste workers, exploring health disparities and social inequalities alongside sustainable solutions to promote their engagements in effective waste management practices.
This round-table discussion aims to:
- Address the health-environment nexus, particularly as it relates to plastic pollution, while exploring the socio-political and economic dimensions of creating a greener future for people and the planet.
- Provide opportunities for engagement between the public and key stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region on the topics of plastic pollution and health, in order to catalyze more effective action against the plastic pollution crisis.
- Explore and discuss solutions for better engaging informal waste workers in effective waste management systems while improving their working conditions and health outcomes.