UN organizations commit to Beat Plastic Pollution

Tue, 05/06/18

In recognition of the problems our planet and communities face as a result of the current plastic plague, the theme of World Environment Day (WED) 2018 is Beat Plastic Pollution.

The aim is to raise awareness of the problems caused by plastic pollution, whilst encouraging all of us to consider the changes we can make in our everyday lives to reduce the burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife and our own health.

Later this week, on 8 June, World Oceans Day 2018 will continue to examine the role of plastic pollution, by focusing on solutions for healthy oceans.

The UN system has been waging a war on single-use plastics in the run up to these two events, with the aim of reducing the amount plastic products disposed of by UN offices. Below are some examples of activities that are underway to #BeatPlasticPollution which we hope will inspire other UN offices and organizations to take action.

Around 500,000,000 straws are used everyday in the USA alone. What we use for 2 minutes can take
up to 200 years to biodegrade.
  • In Nairobi, the UN Environment headquarters and the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) have replaced plastic water bottles with glass bottles and introduced a 10 Kenya Shilling ($0.10US) fee on all plastic takeaway food containers and cups. Staff are working towards replacing non-recyclable plastic lids for their take-away coffee cups with recyclable lids, and are also considering banning single-use plastics - including plastic straws and cups - from cafeterias and introducing sustainable or biodegradable alternatives made of bamboo, paper or glass.
  • Staff at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) are making progress towards their goal of having 99% of the compound’s disposable takeaway containers, bags and cutlery being made of biodegradable materials. From today,  takeaway containers and cutlery from all the Palais des Nations’ catering outlets will be exclusively made of bio-degradable material. They are also planning to dramatically reduce the number of disposable water plastic bottles being sold in the office premises. A key message that they are delivering to staff is to strive to use only what is necessary and avoid wastage.

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) has succeeded in replacing plastic cups and food containers with biodegradable solutions and claims that around 90% of disposable tableware and packaging is now biodegradable/compostable. The organization has also reduced the use of water plastic bottles by installing water fountains on each floor and in the cafeteria and is investigating the option of providing glass water jugs and cups for official meetings. 

  • Colleagues at the UN Headquarters in New York have been busy reducing single-use plastic food and beverage containers in cafes by: eliminating plastic cups and all Styrofoam for beverages; introducing biodegradable bowls; using china and flatware in the Delegates Dining Room and for catered events; promoting the use of bulk condiments vs. individual packages; and by promoting the Bring Your Own Coffee Mug (BYOCM) scheme which offers customers a free coffee refill after their 10th purchase.

  • Meanwhile, over in Bonn, Germany, UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) has reduced plastic waste at their headquarters by serving food and drinks in reusable containers and likewise for meetings and events outside UNFCCC premises, to the greatest extent possible. Staff are also being encouraged to use re-usable containers for personal food and drinks, and to choose tap water from water dispensers over plastic bottles. The organization has an ambition to ban plastic tanks in water dispensers at their headquarters by the end of June 2018. 
  • Onto the World Food Programme (WFP), which has reduced demand for plastic water bottles by installing water dispensers at common points in their Kenya Country Office, their Kenya Regional Bureau, their headquarters in Rome and numerous other locations. The Kenya office has gone one step further by working with a local drinking water provider which is supplying 18-litre refillable bottles for dispensers rather than purchasing single-use bottles, and also installing small-scale water purification units for remote premises. Back at headquarters, work is in progress to develop procurement specifications to reduce plastic waste associated with catering services.
  • Also in Rome, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has, in honour of WED 2018, discontinued the sale of drinks in plastic bottles from its HQ cafeteria and vending machines. Over the years, IFAD has been encouraging behaviour-change associated with single-use plastic water bottles by distributing IFAD-branded re-usable bottles to all staff and contractors, installing water fountains (with normal, fizzy and hot water) on every floor, replacing plastic take away cups and cutlery with biodegradable/compostable utensils, and banning the use of plastic bottles in official meetings. 
  • On the other side of the world the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) has replaced plastic cups and food containers with biodegradable alternatives and, from June 2018, will be banning one disposable catering item each month with the aim of becoming plastic-free for disposable catering items by the end of 2018. To support this, staff are being encouraged to bring their own containers, and reusable takeaway containers made of glass are available for purchase on campus. Similarly, re-usable straws made of bamboo, metal and silicone are available for purchase on campus and non-waxed paper straws will be sold with a THB 5 ($0.16US) surcharge, to discourage the use of plastic straws by promoting the purchase of reusable ones.

Commenting on the progress being made across different UN offices, the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) project coordinator, said: “We’re seeing a system-wide effort to say ‘no’ to single-use plastics. From Bangkok to Rome, and from New York to Nairobi, there’s no doubt that awareness of the problems caused by single-use plastics has increased and is leading to changes in behaviour both by individuals and organizations.”

If your office is engaged in efforts to reduce plastic waste, please contact [email protected] and share your story

Categories: Procurement, Staff Engagement, Waste