TCoPS - 22

West Bengal, India © Alamy Stock Photo
SPOTLIGHT: THE ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE OF THE PLASTIC LIFECYCLE
Marginalised communities disproportionately
bear the cost of the plastic lifecycle:
Incineration plants and oil and gas refineries
are built predominantly in low-income and
marginalised communities exposing them to
health and economic risks. Research in 2019
found that of the 73 incinerators across the US, 79%
are located within three miles of low-income and
minority neighbourhoods.138
research found that incinerators and landfills are
disproportionately sited in indigenous communities
because their lands have unclear tenure status.139
gastrointestinal issues, and waterborne diseases.145
Informal waste pickers also often face barriers to accessing
adequate healthcare to help treat occupational-related
health conditions. For example, a study in South Africa
found that less than half of informal waste pickers had
used a healthcare facility in the previous 12 months, citing
the inability to take time off work as a significant barrier to
health-care utilisation.146
Furthermore, additional
Crude
oil and gas refineries are also disproportionately built
in low-income and marginalised communities.140
This
exposes these communities to chemical pollutants
which are released during the incineration and refining
processes. Communities are often also given inadequate
access to information regarding the risks they are exposed
to, limiting their ability to protect themselves.141.
Not only
do these neighbourhoods face health risks, but they also
face negative economic impacts as the presence of plants
reduces house prices. A study focused on incineration
plants in China, found that neighbouring properties show
decreases in the initial listing price of up to 25%.142
Informal waste pickers are exposed to significant
health risks throughout the plastic waste
processing cycle. Prolonged and frequent exposure to
faecal matter, medical waste, and hazardous substances
puts informal waste pickers at risk of chronic health
conditions such as respiratory disorders.143
Waste pickers
also often lack protective clothing and equipment, despite
being directly exposed to toxic waste. An assessment
of the evidence of negative health impacts from open
burning of plastic waste indicated a high risk of harm to
waste pickers.144
Documented impacts include epidermal
issues, communicable diseases, musculoskeletal issues,
respiratory diseases, non-communicable diseases,
WWF INTERNATIONAL 2021
Climate change, which the plastics lifecycle is
already contributing to, disproportionately affects
disadvantaged groups. Studies have concluded
that rising temperatures caused by climate change will
have unequal effects across the world, with most of
the consequences borne by those who are least able to
afford it. Empirical evidence suggests that countries
with better-regulated capital markets, higher availability
of infrastructure, flexible exchange rates, and more
democratic institutions are likely to recover faster from the
negative impacts of temperature shocks.147
Furthermore,
in hot regions of emerging and developing countries,
higher temperatures are shown to constrain growth more
than in hot regions of developed countries. Therefore, in
low-income countries, the adverse effect is long-lasting
and is the result of various negative impacts including
lower agricultural output, poorer human health, and
depressed labour productivity in sectors more exposed
to the weather. As such, developing and emerging
economies will likely suffer disproportionately from the
consequences of global warming and adverse weather
events caused by climate change.148
Additionally, within
these countries, adverse effects are likely to be felt by the
most disadvantaged groups. Available evidence indicates
that the relationship between climate change and socioeconomic
inequality can be characterised as a vicious
cycle.149
Initial inequalities cause disadvantaged groups
to suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects of
climate change, with these negative impacts then resulting
in greater subsequent inequality.

TCoPS

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of TCoPS

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