SCELG members Tallash Kantai and Graham Hamley respond to a call for written submissions by the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Mar 2021 — In March 2021, SCELG PhD researchers Graham Hamley and Tallash Kantai , along with Prof Bhavani Narayanaswamy of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), prepared a written submission for the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and plastics, in response to a call for information on the lifecycle of plastics and human rights.

Image by Brian Yurasits via Unsplash 

The call for information — which deemed plastic pollution to be “one of the most serious and alarming environmental issues of our time” — sought information on, amongst other things: information on plastics generally; impacts of plastic pollution on health and the environment; and impacts and implications of plastics on human rights. Information submitted by States, civil society organisations, academic institutions and other stakeholders in response to this call will be used to feed into the Special Rapporteur’s development of a thematic report on the lifecycle of plastics and human rights, to be presented to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2021. 

The submission drafted by Graham, Tallash, and Prof Narayanaswamy was developed and submitted under the framework of the One Ocean Hub (OOH). Amongst other things, the submission highlighted that:

  • An estimated 8 million tons of plastic is deposited into the oceans each year, accounting for 80% of all marine debris;
  • A number of pathogens have been discovered to preferentially colonise plastic in the marine environment, which may have harmful consequences for aquaculture and public health;
  • Plastics are also being found in the deep sea, and not just in coastal regions;
  • Marine plastic pollution threatens the enjoyment of the rights to health and to adequate food in various ways, including through the reduction of marine biomass that serves as an essential food source, through increased health risks from seafood (including ingestion of plastics), and impairment of essential ecosystem services;
  • The threat that marine plastics pose to the enjoyment of human rights triggers a series of state obligations, including non-retrogression, and assurance of non-discrimination in the enjoyment of the marine environment to the extent necessary for realising the rights to health and food;
  • The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal has been amended to include plastic as a hazardous waste stream, although the list of plastic types exempted means only a small number of plastics are controlled under the Convention; and
  • The amendment provides exemptions for plastic waste in international transit for recycling purposes with the expectation that as more plastic is recycled, less plastic will end up in the marine environment.

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