Plastic has become the workhorse of the modern economy and is found in all aspects of modern life. While providing significant benefits, the current use of plastics has many drawbacks.
More than 32 per cent of plastic packaging escapes collection systems. Most of it ends up in landfills, dumps or simply in the environment – in cities, in the oceans or farm lands.
Unless we act now, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The challenge before us is to transform the “make-use-dispose” plastics’ economy into a circular economy, based on recycling. We also need to reduce our consumption of single-use or disposable plastic.
We can lessen the environmental damage that plastic pollution is causing by extending the use of plastic products for as long as possible, while recovering, reusing and recycling plastics at a much higher rate. This will not only reduce the environmental damage that plastic pollution is causing but will also open up new opportunities for decent work.
The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook: Greening with Jobs 2018 report suggests that a sustained 5 per cent annual increase in recycling rates for plastics, glass, wood pulp, metals and minerals can generate around 6 million additional jobs across the world. The waste management and recycling sector already employs over 500,000 people in Brazil and about the same number of workers in Bangladesh. The majority are women.
However, the sad reality is that the handling of plastic waste, as well as e-waste and other fast-growing solid waste streams, remains largely part of the informal economy in many countries. Workers face serious decent work deficits, such as work-related hazards, discrimination, stigmatization, violence and harassment, low earnings and long working hours. They often are not legally registered and are not protected by labour laws, with no access to social protection benefits.
Addressing these gaps will greatly enhance opportunities for decent work. A coherent and integrated legal framework is a first step in that direction. Therefore, the ILO’s constituents – governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations – have an important role to play.
Next year, the ILO will convene a Global Dialogue Forum on decent work in the management of e-waste, which is expected to generate new solutions and recommendations.
The ILO has implemented successful projects around the world to support formalization in the waste management sector, skills’ development and entrepreneurship. We also play a major role in promoting social dialogue, in partnership with industry as well as with employers’ and workers’ organizations.
Also, cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations have been set up in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines and South Africa to increase the collective voice and negotiation power of waste pickers. In addition, they ensure their integration into waste management chains as recycling workers.
Building on these successful experiences, we can do more to keep our planet safe, clean and fit for work.