Plastic pollution has increased dramatically to reach even the most remote parts of our planet. It affects all natural environments from deep oceanic sediments to the atmosphere and agricultural soils, and threatens human health through plastic found in blood, the brain and breastmilk.
Over the past few decades, scientific studies have unveiled the mounting threats and risks posed by plastic pollution, which require immediate global action, but also a long-term and sustained scientific participation through a mechanism at the interface between science, policy and society. Current negotiations are underway to produce a legally binding instrument to combat plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
The International Science Council has developed a policy brief aimed at providing a set of functions and principles to guide the scope, objectives and institutional arrangements of such a process and facilitate the uptake of existing scientific knowledge for a strong science–policy dialogue.
Policy Brief: Creating a Strong Interface between Science, Policy and Society to Tackle Global Plastic Pollution
International Science Council, 2023. ISC Policy Brief: Creating a strong interface between science, policy and society to tackle global plastic pollution. Paris, International Science Council. https://council.science/publications/plastic-pollution-policy-brief/
- Plastic pollution is a rapidly accelerating and complex challenge that affects the entire planet. The versatile properties of plastics have led to increased production over the past 60 years, resulting in extensive accumulation of waste and growing risks. Overcoming this crisis requires urgent global-scale action drawing on the most up-to-date and multidisciplinary science.
- Addressing global plastic pollution requires a systems approach – to comprehensively tackle the entire life cycle of plastic and associated multidimensional effects, and focus on integrated solutions that can address the interconnected nature of social, environmental and economic impacts.
- Significant scientific advancements have deepened our understanding of some of the risks and consequences associated with plastic pollution, including for ecosystem, biodiversity and human health, and of the behaviour, fate and persistence of plastics in the environment. Ongoing research aims to explore emerging areas and fill gaps in knowledge, as well as ensure effective strategies for tackling the plastic pollution crisis.
- Vested interests limit current actions to reduce plastic pollution and constrain efforts towards a complete approach. For instance, some approaches that involve recycling or alternative materials, and which claim to be ‘sustainable’, may have adverse consequences. Effective transformation therefore requires understanding the politics of the plastic crisis along with economic, sociological, anthropological and cultural dimensions.
- Integrating rigorous scientific knowledge can significantly bolster ongoing negotiations, and reinforce the international instrument to tackle plastic pollution. Interaction between Member States, scientists and other stakeholders could be enhanced through a platform established under the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC) Secretariat. The platform would aim to foster a two-way dialogue among stakeholders for jointly framing policy questions and needs, providing evidence, assessing solutions and communicating risks effectively.
- A mechanism at the science–policy–society interface could guide and inform implementation and monitor effective progress on the international instrument. This mechanism would provide scientific guidance, support and up-to-date evidence from a wide range of scientific fields – guided by principles of independence, policy relevance, interdisciplinarity and inclusivity.
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