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Research reports

Plastic pollution and flooding

Estimating the global impact of plastic pollution on urban flooding events and their associated impact on human health

2023 Available in English

Street scenes in Kinshasa, showing the impact of plastic waste in the waterways of the city.

A waterway in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), completely overwhelmed by plastic pollution. Credit: Tom Price / Bin Twinning

The accumulation of mismanaged plastic waste is a serious issue globally. It has severe negative impacts on biodiversity and the environment, as well as on livelihoods and human health. 

As climate change makes rainfall events more intense and frequent, plastic pollution blocking drainage systems in poor urban areas (slums) poses a serious danger to communities living in flood-risk areas.

Why this research is needed

As far back as 1998 it was reported that plastic bags blocking waterways in Bangladesh contributed to devastating flooding, with two-thirds of the country submerged. 

Since then several research studies have increased our understanding of the extent of plastic-aggravated flooding, but – until now – no research has attempted to quantify the number of people impacted by plastic-aggravated flooding events.

Report findings

This report:

  • estimates the number of people globally who are at risk of experiencing more severe and frequent flooding because of plastic pollution
  • summarises current knowledge about plastic-aggravated flooding events and their negative consequences for human health
  • concludes that plastic pollution acts as a significant threat multiplier when it comes to flood risk. 

Its findings are particularly important to the ongoing negotiations about a United Nations (UN) plastics treaty, which aims to tackle plastic pollution and protect human health from its adverse effects.

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