2023 UNEP Earth Awards For Combatting Plastic Pollution

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Image credit - BNE Intellinews

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a city mayor, a non-profit foundation, a social enterprise, a government initiative and a research council as its 2023 Champions of the Earth.

Josefina Belmonte Belmonte, mayor of Quezon City in the Philippines (Policy Leadership), the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation (Inspiration and Action), China’s Blue Circle (Entrepreneurial Vision), José Manuel Moller of Chile (Entrepreneurial Vision) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (Science and Innovation) were declared winners “for their innovative solutions and transformative action to tackle plastic pollution”.

“Plastic pollution is a deeply concerning strand of the triple planetary crisis. For the sake of our health and planet, we must end plastic pollution. This will take nothing less than a complete transformation, to reduce the amount of plastics produced and eliminate single-use plastics; and to switch to reuse systems and alternatives that avoid the negative environmental and social impacts that we are witnessing with plastic pollution,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

Belmonte is driving environmental and social action through a raft of policies to combat the climate crisis, end plastic pollution and green Quezon City.

“Her initiatives include bans on single-use plastics, a trade-in programme for plastic pollution, refill stations for everyday essentials and advocacy for strong global policymaking on plastics,” according to the UNEP statement.

The MacArthur Foundation has played a leading role in mainstreaming a lifecycle approach, including for plastics. “The foundation has published reports and established networks of private and public sector decision-makers, as well as academia, to develop lifecycle initiatives and solutions to the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution and more,” the UNEP said.

Blue Circle is China’s largest marine plastic waste programme. It uses blockchain technology and the internet of things to track and monitor the full lifecycle of plastic pollution – from collection to regeneration, re-manufacturing and re-sale.

It has collected over 10,700 tonnes of marine debris.

Chilean Moller is the founder of Algramo, a social enterprise dedicated to providing refill services that reduce plastic pollution and lower the costs of everyday essentials. He also works to prevent, reduce, and sustainably manage waste through his role as Vice Chair of the UN Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste, an initiative set up in March 2023.

South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research uses cutting-edge technology and multidisciplinary research to develop innovations to tackle plastic pollution and other issues.

The announcement of winners comes even as countries gather in Nairobi next month to negotiate an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Humanity produces around 430 million tonnes of plastic every year, two-thirds of which quickly becomes waste.

Every year, up to 23 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into aquatic ecosystems, polluting lakes, rivers and seas. By 2040, carbon emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics could account for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions under the most ambitious targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Chemicals in plastic can also cause health problems in humans.

The annual Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honor. It has recognized 116 laureates: 27 world leaders, 70 individuals and 19 organizations since its inception in 2005.

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