28 Feb 2022 | Series | S+50

How you can help protect the environment from plastic pollution

As the world prepares to mark five decades of the environmental movement with the Stockholm +50 conference, we look back at projects and initiatives that have positively impacted the environment and people’s lives - and how we can accelerate action on sustainability.

Humanity’s long toxic love affair with disposable plastic is choking the world’s rivers and seas, threatening wildlife, contaminating the food chain and helping to drive the climate crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) soars.

The solutions are complex and include improving regulation, ramping up recycling and introducing incentives to encourage a reduction in virgin plastic production. But experts say there are several things everyday people can do to help tackle the mounting toll plastic is taking on the environment.

If you’re looking to break your addiction to plastic, take these simple steps.

Adopt a circular lifestyle

Embrace what’s known as circularity, the idea that products – and the materials that go into them – should be reused instead of being thrown away.

Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products, like reusable coffee mugs, water bottles and food packaging. Also check out options like reusable nappies and menstrual products, bamboo toothbrushes and solid shampoos. You could save money and protect the oceans and climate at the same time.

Rethink your fashion and laundry choices

About 60 per cent of material made into clothing is plastic, which includes polyester, acrylic and nylon textiles. Every time these synthetic fabrics are washed, they shed tiny plastic fibres called microfibres, a form of microplastics—tiny pieces up to five millimetres in size. Laundry alone causes around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres to be released into the ocean every year. Try washing your clothes less often, using washing bags and filters designed to collect microfibres and, if you can afford it, switching away from fast fashion to clothes with lower synthetic fibre content.

Make sure your toiletries are plastic-free

Personal care products are a major source of microplastics, which get washed into the oceans straight from our bathrooms. Look for plastic-free face wash, day cream, makeup, deodorant, shampoo and other products. Check out this interactive story to see just what we are talking about.

So no to plastic when shopping

Try to reduce your plastic footprint by choosing food without plastic packaging and bringing a reusable bag. Some shops now have plastic-free aisles and many offer loose produce or use dispensers and refillable containers. Use your own coffee mug when out and about instead of accepting a plastic one. And, of course, ditch the plastic straws and stir sticks. When shopping online, look for options that will allow you to opt out of plastic packaging.

Roll up your sleeves and get cleaning

Plastic is everywhere: it’s in parks, rivers and on beaches. Join global and local movements, such as World Cleanup Day, or organize a cleanup yourself. If you jog, become a ‘plogger’ and pick up any litter you see on your way (all the while observing COVID-19 hygiene protocols). Some 80 per cent of marine litter originates on land and in rivers.

Stop smoking

Not only is smoking one of the world’s biggest public health threats, it also contributes to enormous plastic pollution of our oceans. Every day, billions of cigarettes are sold around the world, each containing plastic filters and toxic chemicals. These waste materials will end up in landfills – polluting and damaging the environment – or in the sea where they threaten marine species. For more than 25 years, cigarette butts have been the main object collected during the International Coastal Cleanup.

Join the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) Clean Seas campaign

Through the Clean Seas platform, UNEP is rallying individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments to dramatically reduce marine litter and its negative impacts.

Clean Seas was launched in 2017, and since then, 63 countries – coastal and landlocked – have signed up to this global movement with ambitious pledges and commitments. Many have pledged to reduce or eradicate single-use plastics from their societies through stronger legislation and regulation. Others have committed to investing more in national recycling facilities and promoting action plans to prevent coastal and marine environment harm.

There are no financial implications associated with joining the Clean Seas. Signatories can also request technical support from UNEP to develop their national action plans to tackle litter and plastic pollution.

Take the #CleanSeas pledge and join a global revolution to cut back on single-use plastics. Then, spread the word to friends and family and through your social media.


In the lead-up to Stockholm+50, we will be featuring more multilateral environmental success stories from the past on the official website. Sign up for the Stockholm+50 newsletter and follow us on social media to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Here’s how you can participate.