Global sustainability goals and plastic soup

In September 2015, the United Nations determined the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda comprises the seventeen well-known Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). All Member States have an effort obligation to adjust their policies so that these goals will indeed be achieved in 2030. Many organizations and companies have now also embraced the agenda and use the sustainability goals as a guide for their actions.

None of the seventeen SDGs specifically has plastic soup as its main subject. Meanwhile, the effects of the plastic soup are clearer and clearer and the problem is increasingly prominent on the international agenda. In July 2017, the United Nations met on the implementation of SDG 14, (“Preserve and make sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources”), and the world adopted a resolution: “Our Ocean, our future: call for action”. All countries agreed to intensify their efforts to prevent pollution of the oceans, among others by aiming to reduce plastics and microplastics. There was special attention for the reduction of Single Use Plastic (SUP), single use packaging plastics in particular.

Relationship between sustainability goals and plastic soup

For many companies, banks and investment funds, the sustainability goals already now function as a checklist for their sustainability barometer. For a number of them this means that their efforts in the fight against plastic pollution can be clearly indicated. Through the SDGs the plastic soup has become an integral part of the sustainability agenda.

The fight against the plastic soup involves:

  • Prevention of plastic entering the environment
  • Prevention of health risks
  • Absolute reduction of plastic.

Below these principles are associated with individual sustainability goals.

SDG 3: Health and well-being

Plastics are a combination of polymers and additives. The latter are chemical substances, including plasticizers and flame retardants, that are added to give plastic the desired properties. Some of these substances disrupt the hormone systems of humans and animals. The effects of nanoplastics are another major concern. These particles are so small that they can penetrate all parts of the body: body tissue, organs, brain and cells. These relatively highly toxic particles can cause local inflammation and all sorts of physiological effects.

  • Prevention of health risks.

SDG 6: Clean drinking water and good sanitation

The sixth sustainable development goal states that the quality of fresh water must be improved. Pollution of inland waterways must be reduced and much more water must be purified to be reused safely.

  • Prevention of health risks.

SDG 11: Resilient and sustainable cities

A good system for the collection and treatment of waste is a basic service that is still lacking in many cities and communities. In combination with a high population density this causes many problems.

  • Prevention of plastic entering the environment
  • Prevention of health risks
  • Absolute reduction of plastic.

SDG 12: Sustainable consumption and production

Mass production and consumption of plastic, one-time packaging plastic in particular, contribute greatly to the plastic pollution of land and sea. This pollution has a negative effect on the functioning of ecosystems, it endangers animals lives, but also threatens the food supply of many people. Burning all that plastic contributes to toxic air pollution. The best way to enhance SDG12 is the reduction of plastic. Encouraging and improving recycling is not in itself a solution to the plastic soup.

  • Prevention of plastic entering the environment
  • Prevention of health risks
  • Absolute reduction of plastic.

SDG 13: Stop climate change

Virtually all plastic is made of fossil fuels, mainly oil and shale gas. The production of plastic takes a lot of energy, about 10 percent of the annual production of fossil fuels (half to make plastic from, the other half as fuel). If we continue our unlimited plastic use this percentage will rise to 20 percent in 2050. Lowering CO2 emissions and thus preventing that the average temperature on earth rises by more than two degrees, is an extremely urgent environmental objective. However, production and application of plastic has a lower carbon footprint than alternatives like paper and metal. Sometimes companies in their pursuit of a lower CO2 foot print therefore choose to use plastic. This choice, however, does not take into account the damage caused by plastic in the environment.

  • Absolute reduction of plastic.

SDG 14: Protection of the seas and oceans

The fourteenth sustainable development goal aims to prevent and greatly reduce pollution of the seas, especially waste that is generated on land. Given the rough estimate that 80% of the waste in seas comes straight from the land, and the fact that this therefore amounts to billions of kilos per year, it is very important to prevent more plastic entering the sea. Major gains will be achieved when good waste collection systems are operational everywhere, while at the same time, the use of plastic is reduced. Cleaning up plastic on beaches or the capture of plastic at sea is important but is not effective if we do not simultaneously stop the stream of plastic. Plastic pollution causes a major burden on sectors such as fishing and tourism.

  • Prevention of plastic entering the environment
  • Prevention of health risks
  • Absolute reduction of plastic.

SDG 15: Restore ecosystems and preserve diversity

Ecosystems in the sea and on land are threatened by plastics and microplastics. Plastic can have a suffocating effect, can cause animals not ingesting sufficient food, can make animals an easier prey to other animals, can make corals sick, et cetera. Substantial reduction of plastics and microplastics leads directly to the recovery of ecosystems and biodiversity.

  • Prevention of plastic entering the environment
  • Prevention of health risks
  • Absolute reduction of plastic.