The Plastic Initiative

Plastic pollution has become a major environmental health dilemma in aquatic, coastal and marine ecosystems. There is no ‘Easy Fix’ to restore these ecosystems. The involvement of education and science is required. School clean up campaigns are not enough. We need to mobilise youth, raise awareness, enhance environmental education, and take to action. We need to involve Government authorities to adjust policies and practices, and the private sector to support professional actions to clean up the mess. Within 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves we will test best waste-management practices and behavioural change and implement the most effective strategies in local communities.

The Challenges of Plastic
  • Environmental

    Loss of biodiversity, degradation of marine ecosystems and reduced water quality

  • Health

    Contaminated seafood and exposure to harmful chemicals from plastic degradation

  • Economical

    Loss of tourism due to pollution and clean up cost



Beat plastic pollution

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing global environmental issues adversely affecting terrestrial, coastal and marine man-made and natural ecosystems. Not only are plastic ingestion and ghost-nets serious biodiversity threats to numerous mammals, reptiles, birds and fish, but micro-plastic has also begun to enter the human food-supply-system via the consumption of marine vertebrates and invertebrates.


Moreover, unattractive garbage accumulation along beaches of scenic beauty causes significant economic costs and losses to the tourism industry.


The 2018 theme of World Environment Day 2018 was ‘Beat the plastic pollution’. At UNESCO, and in particular with a view to nature conservation in reconciliation with sustainable development and human living, we are taking this issue very seriously.


The Bangkok Post reported about the death of a short-finned-pilot-whale, on 3rd of June 2018, killed by swallowing 80 plastic bags. According to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (23.6.2018) 13 million tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans annually. It is estimated that 12 billion tons will have accumulated in our oceans until 2050. The National Geographic June 2018 edition dedicated a comprehensive 38 pages article to plastic: We invented it – we need it – we are drowning in it. The article offers highly valuable statistical data. Accordingly plastic production has reached an annual total amount of 407 million tons in 2015, compared to 100 million in 1980. Plastic enters the marine systems via major rivers. Asia is especially contributing to the problem with 15 of the 20 most plastic-polluted rivers located in Asia, including the Amur, Hai, Ganges, Indus, Pearl, Yangtze, and Yellow. Other parts of the world also contribute large amounts of plastic-waste, for example through the waters of the Niger and the Nile rivers. This is an ongoing global and highly complex issue, and there is no ‘Easy-Fix’ to improve the situation. We are all responsible.


Areas of massive plastic pollution include extensive marine surface areas in the north-eastern as well as southern Pacific Ocean, the northern and the southern Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, and elsewhere. The north Pacific and the Indian Ocean are believed to be the two most plastic polluted marine areas, both in terms of plastic weight and particles.


The situation is quite dangerous and the problem is getting out of hand. There is no easy fix, as a lot of good individual activities have shown – the situation is rapidly worsening – a comprehensive inter-disciplinary approach is absolutely essential in order to generate meaningful, measurable and widespread impact. The issue is not new, and awareness raising and school-class clean-up-campaigns are no longer enough. We need to mobilise the youth, raise awareness, enhance environmental education, and turn to action. We need to involve Government authorities to adjust policies and practices, and the private sector to support professional actions to clean up the mess.


UNESCO, with its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (BRs), as well as its capacities in the Natural Sciences, Education and Youth Mobilization (MaB Youth Forum 2017), is capable of playing a substantial role in reducing the problem, and it has a clear mandate in particular in the Major Programme II. (Natural Sciences), as well as I. (Education, with a view to DESD). We therefore propose a comprehensive regional approach throughout Asia/Pacific, minimizing plastic pollution via the mobilization of the youth in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. BRs are ideal places to systematically try and test existing and innovative ideas to clean up ecosystems and to keep them clean, with the involvement of Government authorities, the private sector and young people.


Think globally – act locally, as suggested during the Rio + 20 Conference, has become a very useful approach for numerous local contributions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030 (SDGs), and that includes the SDGs of relevance for this proposal, above all SDG 12, 14, and 15. The proposal will aim at numerous and geographically widespread grass-root-activities, with a massive cumulative multiplier effect.


Initially a Youth Conference is needed, together with a new fund that allows to finance the implementation of solutions and actions. The overall aim is to start a process that should go beyond the financial limits of this specific proposal. The BRs will function as incubators of change (via testing of many grass-root-level activities, primarily inside 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, in cities and communities, as well as along water-fronts in Asia/Pacific), including best waste-management practices and behavioural change. The activities will be replicable and inspire multiplication activities beyond the borders of the testing sites.


Governments and the responsible private sector will be invited by UNESCO to provide annual funding, in order to mobilize the required resources for the successful and scientifically documented implementation of a new Biosphere Reserve related initiative: The Plastic Initiative. Clean up – Keep Clean.


Latest from our blog

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Project SWAP: Working for Green Causes


Research has shown that by 2050, more plastics will inhabit our oceans than fish. Efforts to counteract this notion have lost momentum due to the current pandemic. The planet lost its normalcy and people have adapted to a new way of living – staying at and working from home. However,...

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True Young Producer awards


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Media Library



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The Plastic Initiative: Inspiration for Youth



The Urgent Need for Massive Ecosystem Restoration and the Role of UNESCO Designated Sites | Benno Böer

World Science Day 2018, Bangkok, November 2018

The UNESCO Bangkok Plastic Initiative | Lawrence Surenda
The Next Big Thing | Henning Schwarze
Solutions to tackle plastic waste - The Rwanda experience | Remy Norbert Duhuze
Bio-Plastics: Beating Global Warming & Plastic Pollution Crisis | K. Jim Jem

The Plastic Initiative Launch Event, Hanoi, March 2019

The Plastic Initiative | Tim Bender

Synergy Meeting, Bangkok, May 2019

The Thailand PPP for Plastic and Waste Management
Circular Economy for Plastic Management | UN Environment

World Science Day 2019, Bangkok, December 2019

Urban Water Management in Bangkok | Sucharit Koontanakulvong
Circular Economy Practices for Plastic Pollution | UNIDO
ESSD School | Chotima Nooprick
National Education Strategic Plan linking with MSDO to SDGs | Kyaw Swer Win
Smart Mobile Learning for Environmental Education | Maik Fuellmann
Environmental Status and Needs Environmental Education in Laos | Bae Pheaxay
Current Status Science Technology and SDGs in Cambodia | Ou Chanthearith
Natural / Cultural Heritage Management in Cambodia | Loeung Kesaro

AIT Seminar, Bangkok, August 2019

Strategic Solutions for Marine Plastic Abatement
Baseline Assessment of current scenario of Plastic Waste Management Islamabad Capital Territory and Ayubia National Park
Radically Reducing Plastic Pollution in Indonesia: A Multistakeholder Action Plan National Plastic Action Partnership
Vietnam National Action Plan for Management if Marine Plastic Litter by 2030
Regulations on Extended Producer Responsibility for Plastic Packaging
Plastic Waste Management Rules 2022 (Second Amendment)
A manual on implementation of circular economy in educational institutions - Focus on Plastic Waste Management

We are all responsible. Clean up campaigns alone are not enough!

We need to address the problem as a whole. Reduce plastic usage, plastic wastage and keep ecosystems clean.

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