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Global plastics treaty needed to protect health, Tearfund tells United Nations

19 April 2024

None Guevara/Tearfund 

Yosely Andino and her granddaughters help her to recycle plastic

Yosely Andino and her granddaughters help her to recycle plastic

TEARFUND is urging United Nations negotiators to agree a global plastics treaty to save communities from being buried under piles of plastic waste, which, the Christian aid agency says, are damaging human health, ecosystems, and wildlife.

The routine burning of plastic waste in millions of communities in Latin and Central America, Africa, and Asia releases toxic fumes that cause breathing difficulties for those more vulnerable, particularly children and the elderly, Tearfund says.

None Guevara/Tearfund Naomi Sánchez recycles plastic in El Rincón

Negotiations on a UN treaty, which Tearfund describes as “the most important international environmental agreement since the Paris Climate deal”, are due to enter their penultimate round in Ottawa, Canada, next week. The treaty would establish legally binding targets to reduce plastic production, scale up reuse solutions, give universal access to waste collection and recycling, and support waste-pickers in the transition. It is expected to be finalised before the end of the year.

Tearfund has been working with churches in Honduras, Central America, to raise awareness of the dangers of burning waste, and organise collections and recycling.

Pastor Wilfredo Vásquez, who leads the Church of God, El Rincón, said: “We had a serious problem with trash, there was waste everywhere in our community. Trash on the football fields, trash around the school and children’s playgrounds.

“A lot of the rubbish was being burnt, items included plastics, clothes, and nappies. Before there was never any garbage collection. Therefore, our community was very dirty. As a church we have worked on cleaning up the community, and have run awareness campaigns about the use of plastics and the burning of garbage in the community.

“It’s vital that a strong UN plastics treaty is agreed so it can help communities like ours where there was previously no waste collection.”

Tearfund estimates that two billion people — one in four, worldwide — do not have access to safe waste collection and disposal. This, it says, leads to fatal illnesses and diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and respiratory infections, caused by living near dumped and burnt waste.

In El Rincón, before the awareness campaign by churches, eight-year-old Valery had to use a nebuliser to help her breathing. Her grandmother, Yosely Andino, like the other community members, had no safe way to dispose of household waste, and had resorted to burning it.

Mrs Andino said: “One of my granddaughters suffered chest pain, due to smoke pollution, the air was contaminated, but now the way we [dispose of waste], it is no longer burned and she has improved in that she no longer gets sick.”

The UN Environment Programme reports that 40 million people lacked access to waste collection in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018.

None Guevara/Tearfund Pastor Wilfredo Vásquez, who leads the Church of God, El Rincón, in Honduras

Tearfund’s manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, Miriam Moreno, works alongside the church and is attending the UN talks in Ottawa. She said: “While the waste collection and bins being installed in El Rincón will make a big difference to this community, there are hundreds of thousands more communities like this. We need far more action from governments and companies, which is why an ambitious treaty is essential.”

An opinion poll of 24,000 people in 32 countries — conducted by Ipsos for the World Wildlife Fund and the Plastic Free Foundation — found that 85 per cent of respondents supported a global ban on single-use plastics, and 87 per cent supported a reduction in plastic production.

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