Minderoo-Monaco Commission

The Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health finds that plastics are both a boon to humanity and a stealth threat to human and planetary health. Plastics convey enormous benefits, but current linear patterns of plastic production, use and disposal with little attention to sustainable design or safe materials and a near absence of recovery, reuse and recycling are responsible for grave harms to health, widespread environmental damage, great economic costs, and deep societal injustices. These harms are rapidly worsening. 

“These findings put us on an unequivocal path to demand the banning or severely restricting of unnecessary, avoidable, and problematic plastic items, many of which contain hazardous chemicals with links to horrific harm to people and the planet. In 2015, 4 per cent of fossil fuel was used to make plastic and, by 2050, this is predicted to increase to 20 per cent. Even worse, as fossil fuel production continues to soar, so will the profound impacts we already see increase even more.”

Professor Sarah Dunlop, co-author and Head of Plastics and Human Health at Minderoo Foundation

Global intervention against the plastic crisis is needed now, because the costs of failure to act will be immense. 

While there remain gaps in knowledge about plastics’ harms and uncertainties about their full magnitude, the evidence available today demonstrates unequivocally that these impacts are great and that they will increase in severity in the absence of urgent and effective intervention at global scale. Manufacture and use of essential plastics may continue. But reckless increases in plastic production, and especially increases in the manufacture of an ever-increasing array of unnecessary single-use plastic products, need to be curbed. 

Main Findings


Current practices for the production, use and disposal of plastics cause great harms to human health and the global environment, and they are not sustainable. These harms arise at every stage across the plastic life cycle. They include human health impacts such as developmental neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption and carcinogenesis. In the ocean, plastics’ harms extend far beyond the visible and well-recognized damages of beach litter, contaminated mid-ocean gyres, and physical injury to marine species and include extensive injury to marine ecosystems. 


The thousands of chemicals in plastics – monomers, additives, processing agents, and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) – are responsible for many of plastics’ harms to human and planetary health. These chemicals leach out of plastics, enter the environment, cause pollution, and result in human exposure. In the environment and in the bodies of living organisms, many plastic chemicals can undergo chemical transformation to form breakdown products and metabolites, some of which are highly toxic and contribute further to plastics’ harms. 


The economic costs of plastics’ harms to human health and the global environment are very high. We estimate that in 2015 the health-related costs of plastic production exceeded $250 billion (2015 Int$) globally, and that in the US alone the health costs of disease, disability and premature death caused by three plastic chemicals alone (PBDE, BPA and DEHP) exceeded $920 billion (2015 Int$). The cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from plastic cause economic harms that we value at $341 billion (2015 Int$) annually. 


The health, environmental and economic harms caused by plastics disproportionately affect vulnerable and at-risk populations – the poor, people of colour, and Indigenous populations as well as fossil fuel extraction workers; plastic production workers; informal waste and recovery workers; persons living in communities adjacent to fossil fuel extraction, plastic production, and plastic waste facilities; and children. These disparate harms are seen in countries at every level of income, including high-income countries. 

Primary Recommendations

The Commission recommends

  • that a global cap on plastic production be a central provision of the Global Plastics Treaty 
  • that a provision banning or severely restricting manufacture and use of unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic items, especially single-use items, be included in the Global Plastic Treaty 
  • that the scope of the Global Plastics Treaty extend beyond micro plastics and marine litter to include all of the many thousands of chemicals incorporated into plastics
  • the establishment of health-protective standards for plastic chemicals under the Global Plastics Treaty, including global rules to be implemented at national level, requiring testing of all polymers and plastics chemicals for toxicity before they enter markets
  •  inclusion in the Global Plastics Treaty of mechanisms for reducing the complexity of plastic products
  • inclusion in the Global Plastics Treaty of requirements for Parties to enact and enforce legislation and policy frameworks on Extended Producer Responsibility
  • that protection of human health and well-being, and especially protection of the health of vulnerable and at-risk populations, be a paramount consideration in developing globally binding controls addressing the harms caused by plastics under the Global Plastics Treaty
  • a strong interface between the Global Plastics Treaty and the Basel and London Conventions to support ongoing management of hazardous plastic waste
  • establishment of a dedicated Permanent Science Policy Advisory Body for the Global Plastics Treaty, with core functions of providing scientifically rigorous, unbiased advice to the Treaty implementation through close engagement, on an ongoing basis, with the global academic community, national research institutes, and national and local policy makers