Accelerating action to beat plastic pollution in Arab countries for a healthy future

June 5, 2023

There is no planet B. We have only one planet that we must protect.

Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean, where they have devastating immediate impacts on biodiversity and negative consequences for the planet.

Globally, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used yearly. Overall, half of the plastic produced is for single use.

Single-use items, including plastic cups, water bottles and food packaging, account for about 89 percent of the plastic waste at the oceans’ bottom. According to the latest UN Environment report, about 12 billion tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills and the environment by 2050 if current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue.

World Environment Day 2023 reminds us that human action against plastic pollution is important. Every person on the planet should do something about plastic pollution because the consequences of their actions are immeasurable. This year's theme focuses on the fact that it's time to #BeatPlasticPollution.

"Eliminating plastic pollution in all its forms is key to protecting human and planetary health and safeguarding sustainable development," said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

Plastic pollution and climate change are closely linked. Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes by reducing ecosystems' ability to adapt to climate change. This can negatively impact the livelihoods of millions of people, food production opportunities and social well-being.

Egypt hosted the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference #COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, and next year the United Arab Emirates will host #COP28. The Arab region could be the center to accelerate climate action and encourage stakeholders, the private sector and communities to take action against plastic pollution and climate change.

Today, we celebrate World Environment Day 2023 by focusing on countries in the Arab region that are working to beat plastic pollution and save the environment.

Egypt launched clean-up campaign in Sharm El Sheikh 

In cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, the European Union and the Swiss government, UNDP Egypt launched an initiative to clean up the land and sea from plastic waste in Sharm El-Sheikh. The event took place in Ras Mohammed protected area and Wataniya marina, aiming to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags that threaten the Red Sea species and human life.

Several workshops and an awareness campaign were held to encourage youth to act and join the fight against plastic pollution.

Iraq promoted sustainable solutions

The consumption of plastic in Iraq - and the rest of the world - is a serious problem. In Erbil, more than 1,500 tons of solid waste is generated daily and sent to landfills or burned in the open. Most of the waste comes from packaged goods, especially water bottles and plastic bags. Microplastics not only pollute the environment, but their particles also enter the human body, especially when the plastic is heated, which can lead to health problems.

UNDP Iraq introduced Eco-Vital, with financial support from the European Union, to distribute paper bags to bakeries in Erbil to present this alternative to bakers and consumers and raise people's awareness of good environmental practices. Eco-Vital and its partners, who produce paper bags, have contacted bakeries in Erbil to learn more about the reasons for choosing plastic, even though people in Kurdistan traditionally buy their bread in cloth or paper bags.

Jordan supported the use of green bags

UNDP Jordan has succeeded in implementing sustainability measures, such as introducing the first recycling programme for plastic, glass, paper and e-waste to protect the environment.

The CO works with the Ministry of Local Administration and the Canadian government to implement the "Green Bags" project to reduce plastic use. These bags are recyclable and reusable. The project raises people's awareness to change their consumption behavior. Additionally, it supports women in acquiring new skills in designing and sewing to produce environmentally friendly bags. 

Lebanon launched a beach clean-up initiative

UNDP Lebanon, in cooperation with Germany through KFW Bank and the German Cooperation, launched a beach clean-up initiative along the Lebanese coast to protect human health and the environment. This created short-term jobs and around 10,000 working days for 250 women and men.

The initiative encourages people to join climate action while benefiting from a short-term job.

Libya launched a solid waste management initiative

The size of the informal recycling sector in Libya is huge and only half of the recyclable material ares dumped in the streets and landfills. Every day, the Greater Tripoli produces nearly 2,990 tons of waste, containing up to 24% materials that could have been recycled.

A large amount of waste is collected by people to make a living from selling those recyclable materials, but the waste sector lacks a legal framework, and it is unseen and disorganised. UNDP Accelerator Lab launched solid waste management initiative to discover the informal recycling sector, and it was found that necessary occupational health and safety measures are neglected, which further contributes to increased levels of environmental pollution activities such as the recovery of recyclables from electrical and electronic equipment. This initiative could help decision makers and municipalities to recognize the informal sector as an integral part of the waste management and could help in increasing local waste management efficiency.

Tunisia is working to reduce waste

UNDP Tunisia has worked with Tunisie Recyclage to install smart bins throughout the office to encourage the selective collection and sorting of waste. It has offered awareness-raising events to promote a culture of sorting and recycling among its staff.

Action to beat plastic pollution
Lebanon Batroun _ The Municipal Police in Lebanon, builds trust with every community member on a daily basis. Copyright UNDP Lebanon

Plastic pollution poses an existential threat to the health of the world's oceans and the billions of people who depend on marine resources for food and income.

Partnerships are essential to address this complex global challenge and reduce plastic intrusion into marine ecosystems by promoting policies and behavioral changes aimed at advancing sound plastic waste management systems, reducing overall plastic pollution, and accelerating the deployment of interception technologies in rivers to end marine plastic pollution.

It is time to support the circular economy, as it can help countries accelerate their transition to a more inclusive, resilient and low-carbon economy. At the same time, they can support the regeneration of natural systems, respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis, and create new green jobs.

COP27 and COP28, taking place in the region, are a good opportunity to accelerate the path to tackling plastic pollution through cross-sector partnerships.

On World Environment Day, UNDP remains committed to support countries in the Arab region to leverage circular economy approaches as a powerful tool to achieve short- to medium-term climate and development goals, beat plastic pollution for a healthy planet and build a better future.