Eliminating releases of plastic in mountainous regions was the focus of a webinar convened by Austria and Georgia, in collaboration with Norway and Rwanda, Co-Chairs of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution (HAC). The webinar provided an opportunity to discuss why plastic pollution in mountainous regions is important to address and how the challenges these regions face can be considered within the intergovernmental process to negotiate a plastics treaty.
The 23 May 2023 event themed, ‘Plastics on the Peak: Eliminating Releases of Plastic Waste to Air, Water and Land in Mountainous Regions,’ was part of a series of webinars the HAC convened prior to the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Develop an International Legally Binding Instrument on Plastic Pollution (INC-2), which met earlier this year in Paris, France.
Participants emphasized that, as a consequence of population and economic growth, overconsumption, and tourism, waste generation, especially plastic waste, is increasing across mountainous regions, endangering freshwater resources and biodiversity and threatening downstream regions. Challenges in these regions include remoteness, lack of economies of scale, limited financial and human resources, high transport costs, and lack of infrastructure.
Offering opening remarks, Irma Gurguliani, INC Focal Point for Georgia and Deputy Head, Waste and Chemicals Management Department, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, highlighted her country’s ban on single-use plastic bags and efforts to focus on waste prevention and recycling, highlighting packaging as the most challenging issue. She said Sweden is helping with efforts to develop a circular economy, and emphasized the importance of engaging all stakeholders and building capacity in municipalities.
Renate Paumann, INC Focal Point for Austria, and Policy Officer, Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, lamented the issue of plastic waste in mountains does not garner as much attention as Ocean plastic pollution and said the future plastics treaty must consider this issue.
Mehrnoosh Azodi, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, discussed the critical role of mountains as a water repository and host to half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as their vulnerability to climate change and pollution. She explained that it takes around 300 years for a plastic bottle to decompose at high altitudes.
With respect to drivers of plastic waste pollution in mountains, she mentioned tourism, economic growth, increasing consumption, increased access to packaged products, leaving plastic waste behind, and atmospheric transport of mircroplastics. On challenges with the environmentally sound management of plastic waste in mountains, she pointed to remoteness, limited resources, harsh climate and high elevation, limited infrastructure, high transport costs, and difficulties with bringing waste down and disposing of it.
Azodi also discussed: insufficient legal and institutional frameworks, monitoring, and financing; lack of awareness, incentives, and infrastructure for the environmentally sound management of plastic waste; and the problem of open burning and illegal dumping. Highlighting efforts to address these issues, Azodi mentioned, among others: Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania, with its trash in, trash out system; Himachal Pradesh, India, which banned the use of certain single-use items, such as plastic carry bags and cutlery; Piemonte Italian Alps, with tax incentives for households to separate their waste; and Langtang region, Nepal, where a used plastic bottle can be exchanged for one Nepalese rupee.
She said addressing plastic waste in mountains requires action at the local, national, regional, and global levels.
The panel discussion was moderated by Melissa de Kock, Head of Biodiversity, People and Landscapes Unit and Mountain Focal Point, UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Noting that microplastics have been found 8,400 feet above sea level, she asked panelists about specific challenges they face with respect to plastics management in mountain regions and invited them to share best practices and solutions.
Kika Bradsford, Director, Acceso PanAm (Americas), said her organization: provides and protects access to conservation areas in mountainous regions; works with local communities, hikers, climbers, and mountaineers; and aims to empower people to take action and change their behaviors. She emphasized the need to decentralize actions and empower local communities.
Raghav Mahto, Co-Founder, Doko Recyclers, Nepal, highlighted reliance on the informal sector, noting the biggest challenge is the lack of interest and capacity to bring plastic waste to lower altitudes. He identified the lack of recycling as a significant challenge, with prevalent burning and dumping; suggested digging pits to store the waste so it can be later recovered and sent elsewhere for processing; and said bringing plastic waste off the mountains must become an economically viable endeavor.
Gael Le Roux, CNRS Research Director, University of Toulouse, France, drew attention to the conflict between economic development and tourism and the use and misuse of plastic. He said mountains are suffering from micro- and nano-plastic fallout from the lowland valleys and even the Ocean.
Other issues raised related to:
- the role of national policies and action plans in eliminating plastic waste in mountainous regions;
- the need for a reporting, monitoring, and a compliance mechanism;
- promoting coherence and complementarity between the plastics treaty and the BRS Conventions, while avoiding duplication of actions, and promoting cooperation and coordination;
- ensuring support and benefits for informal workers; and
- outdoor recreation companies using more sustainable materials in their products.
[Webinar Website] [High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Webinar on Enhanceing a Circular Plastics Economy] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Webinar on Hazardous Chemicals and Microplastics] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Eliminating and Restricting Single Use Plastics]