Benno Böer


Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing global environmental issues adversely affecting terrestrial, coastal and marine man-made and natural ecosystems. There is no ‘Easy Fix’ to restore these 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’, minted by the Republic of India, who hosted World Environment Day 2018, displaying clear, decisive and global environmental leadership. At UNESCO and with our partners UN Habitat, UN ESCAP, IUCN, SEAMEO, AIT & NSM we understand that science-education and the participation of the private sector and the general public is essential to solve the problem. We are taking this issue very seriously.

The private sector has a responsibility for better plastic-production and utilization, including avoiding supermarket customers to be bombarded with single-used plastic-bags. UNESCO has been informed by young adults that they wish to use less plastic packaging when they go shopping, but that it is almost impossible. The private sector that is producing and using plastic-products should also get together with academia, to conduct research into more biodegradable plastic types, and more recyclable plastic-types. They should support projects aimed at reducing ecosystem plastic-pollution, and restoring ecosystems from plastic-pollution.

Plastic pollution is not new – beaches in the Mediterranean were already heavily plastic-polluted in the 1960s. This shows that time has been wasted and not enough has been done. The good news is, that nobody wants plastic pollution, and a lot of awareness and good activities have been built recently.

Plastic enters the marine systems via major rivers. 15 of the 20 most plastic-polluted rivers are 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. We are all responsible to clean up the mess and improve our production and consumption behavior.

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 situation is quite dangerous and the problem is getting out of hand. 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, develop national policies, 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.

Some countries, like Vietnam and Indonesia, have produced national plastic pollution action plans. All Governments should do that. All Governments should realize that the cumulative effects on ecosystem functioning has caused our natural ecosystems’ balance to be tilted. This is very dangerous, because human living depends on clean air to breath, clean water to drink, and good and enough food to eat. If ecosystems get damaged, they will not be able to provide these ecosystems services as we need it.

UNESCO, with its World Network of Biosphere Reserves, as well as its capacity in science-education, is capable of playing a substantial role in reducing the problem, and it has a clear mandate. Biosphere Reserves are ideal places to systematically try and test existing and innovative ideas to restore the aquatic ecosystems, and to keep them clean.  It is high time to reinvigorate the coalition between humanity and nature, and place socio-ecological issues where they belong: on the very top of national priority concerns.

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 environmental sustainability.

Achievements of the Plastic Initiative can be viewed here:


Dr. Benno Böer holds a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. degrees in Biology from the University of Osnabrück, and a Ph.D. degree in Physical Geography from the University of Paderborn. He has worked in several positions in the area of ecology and anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems, in Germany, Ethiopia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the UAE, including 20 years with UNESCO. He currently serves as the Natural Sciences Programme Specialist at UNESCO Bangkok. Dr. Böer has published and co-edited many books and journal articles in the field of science-based environmental management.  

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