The tide is turning for the world’s waste crisis

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The Government has woken up to the world’s waste crisis. Uncollected trash blights life chances in poor communities and chokes the oceans. Theresa May’s commitment today to help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste through UK aid, as part of the Government’s 25-year environment plan, clears the way to a solution. We hope that concrete announcements will follow soon that commit the Government to spending 3 per cent of their aid budget to tackle this issue. 

Beyond cleaning up the oceans and improving health, waste can also generate jobs and improve incomes for poor people. By supporting approaches that work with waste pickers and the development of recycling markets, the UK government can help these nations develop circular economies that turn a crisis into an opportunity. 

Plastic pollution has caught the attention of May, Gove, and Mordaunt, as well as the millions of viewers of the awe-inspiring Blue Planet II. Images of albatrosses unwittingly feeding their young bits of plastic are one part of the wider issue of waste management and our rising throwaway culture. 2 billion people have no waste collection service, according to the UN Environment Programme’s Global Waste Management Outlook, and even where waste is collected, it is often not managed properly.

In low income countries, plastics blocking drains is a major cause of flooding. Diarrhoeal diseases are twice as common in communities without waste collection and fumes from burning waste cause an estimated 270,000 premature deaths a year. Microplastics entering the food chain pose serious but as yet unknown consequences for human health, both in the UK and in poor coastal communities around the world that rely on fish as the main source of protein.

If all donor governments allocated just 3 per cent of their aid budget to tackling the waste crisis, waste collection could be extended to the one in four people who currently lack it. The UK should lead the way.

 
This post is based on a Tearfund article for Unherd and a Tearfund press statement.

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