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NIHRC calls for action on World Environment Day

05 Jun 2023

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission marks World Environment Day

World Environment Day (5 June) is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. This year’s theme is #BeatPlasticPollution which provides a reminder to accelerate action to address plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is a problem that is not only a threat to our environment, but also a threat to people, as plastics impact human rights along its lifecycle.

Why are plastics a human rights issue?

The production, use, and disposal of plastics greatly impact the enjoyment of a number of human rights, particularly the right to health. From toxic pollution released in plastics manufacturing, to toxic chemical additives in plastic consumer products, they pose significant threats to human health.

Plastics are made from fossil fuel raw materials and are a major contributor to climate change, which in turn threatens human rights. Due to long-lasting environmental degradation and climate change, plastics also impact the rights of future generations.

International human rights law obligates governments to address such harms and to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights to health, water, access to information, and a healthy environment.

Every week, over 1.3 million single-use plastic (SUP) cups and 3 million SUP food containers are thrown away in Northern Ireland, the majority of which will end up in landfill or in our seas.[1] A report by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful found that 81% of litter found on NI beaches in 2021 was plastic.

Alyson Kilpatrick, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said:

The global plastic problem is undermining human rights. Putting rights at the centre of addressing the triple planetary crisis – the pollution crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the climate change crisis– is more important now than ever and crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We can all play a part in reducing plastic pollution and urgent action is needed to deliver the Government’s commitment to eliminate plastic pollution in the New Decade, New Approach agreement. Future policies and legislation should address plastics in a way that protects human rights.

What action is being taken to address the plastic crisis?

The EU Single-Use Plastic Directive came into force in 2021 to tackle plastic pollution by transforming how we make, use and dispose of plastic. In NI, the Northern Ireland Executive has committed to eliminate plastic pollution in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

In 2022, the 5th UN Environment Assembly endorsed a historic resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal. This has paved the way for countries to establish a legally binding instrument to address the impacts of plastics throughout their lifecycle.

For practical information and tips on how businesses, public authorities, and schools can reduce plastic use, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have produced the guides below:

For further information visit:

UN Environment Programme


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