Plastic pollution demands an ‘all of the above’ strategy

Fazal Masood Malik and Farhan Khokhar, Canada

How much plastic are you willing to eat? The notion of consuming plastic is unappetising, yet it is increasingly becoming a reality. Plastics, including microplastics, are gradually making their way up the food chain and onto our plates. The long-term effects on human health remain unknown, but the signs are troubling.

“Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought,” warns the Holy Quran. (Surah ar-Rum, Ch.30: V.42) This is all too evident in the scourge of plastic waste that is choking our planet. Global plastic consumption has quadrupled in 30 years, yet only 9% is recycled. The rest pollutes lands and oceans, with over half of branded waste traced to just 56 companies, led by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Danone. (“Coke, Pepsi top list in global count of plastic waste”,

Compounding these concerns, new research reveals the ubiquitous presence of microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs) within human and animal reproductive systems. A recent study found microplastics in all sampled canine and human testes. Troublingly, certain polymers like PVC and PET showed negative correlations with testicular weight, highlighting potential impacts on male fertility. (“Microplastic presence in dog and human testis and its potential association with sperm count and weights of testis and epididymis, Toxicological Sciences, 2024”,

In an interview, physician-scientist Dr Kjersti Aagaard emphasised the pervasiveness of MNPs, which have been detected in placentas from normal-term pregnancies. Differences in MNP levels were associated with slightly lower Apgar scores in newborns and an increased need for medical interventions during labour. Dr Aagaard noted an NIEHS-funded study linking MNPs in coronary artery plaque to higher risks of heart attacks and death. While much remains unknown about MNPs’ health effects, she advised practical steps like using non-plastic food containers to reduce exposure. (“Microplastics’ knowns, unknowns discussed by a physician-scientist”,

To stem this rising tide, we need a comprehensive approach that curbs plastic production itself, not just cleaning up the waste downstream. As Canada’s mixed record shows, local bans and fees can help cut single-use plastics, but are not always effective on their own. Corporate accountability is also lacking. An international database obliging companies to quantify and report their plastic footprint could boost transparency. (“Coke, Pepsi top list in global count of plastic waste”,

Most importantly, the world urgently needs an ambitious global treaty. But as negotiations enter the final stretch, key countries are resisting core commitments, especially on cutting production – the “elephant in the room”. A “high ambition” coalition of over 60 states wants binding targets, yet big players like America, China and India are pushing for a limited, voluntary deal. Meanwhile, oil and plastic producers are lobbying hard against curbs on manufacturing, loath to dent profits amid the clean-energy shift.

Political will is badly needed to secure a meaningful treaty in the last round of talks this November. Leaders should heed the Quranic call to avoid corruption on the earth (Quran 2:12) and the Prophet Muhammad’ssa warning that “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith 2340). Safeguarding the planet is a moral and spiritual imperative.

Plastic pollution demands action on all fronts. Better waste management and recycling, yes, but also direct cuts to the production of problematic plastics. Cities need tailored reduction policies, companies need accountability, and above all, countries need the courage to forge a robust global pact.

Some are leading the way. The mountain town of Banff, in Alberta, has introduced ambitious rules, from requiring restaurants to use reusable plates to launching a borrowable coffee cup scheme. Others, like Vancouver, have struggled and rolled back ineffective measures.

The path ahead is steep. Major rifts remain between those seeking a strong treaty and those like America resisting ambitious action, especially on production cuts. If consensus proves elusive, a last resort may be a framework deal with optional protocols for willing states – akin to the Ozone treaty – or even a breakaway process among high-ambition countries. 

But a piecemeal approach is far from ideal. With plastics production set to triple by 2060, this is a global crisis that ultimately needs a global solution. Failing to curb the upstream flow of plastics means waging a losing battle against the downstream flood of waste.

Fighting plastic pollution is a responsibility that ultimately falls on the shoulders of consumers. While governments can implement policies and companies can promote sustainable practices, reducing plastic waste requires individuals to curb their own consumption habits. Plastics are derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, yet our reliance on single-use plastics has led to a crisis of pollution blighting our lands and oceans. Disposable plastics may be convenient, but their proliferation comes at an immense environmental cost. We cannot simply recycle our way out of this problem; we must fundamentally rethink our relationship with plastics and embrace reusable alternatives wherever possible. The question we face is whether we are willing to change behaviours and make sacrifices to curb plastic pollution at an individual level.

Consumers and political leaders must step up for the sake of human health and the planet. As stewards of the environment, we have no excuse for inaction. The coming months will determine whether the world can unite to turn off the plastic tap – or whether this toxic tide will engulf all.

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