World leaders must make sure that a global treaty on plastic pollution has justice for people in poverty at its heart, Christian campaigners have said.
Tearfund joined the International Alliance of Waste Pickers in a demonstration outside Parliament on Wednesday calling on world leaders to end plastic pollution and ensure that the treaty currently being drafted by nearly 200 governments fully addresses the impact on people living in poverty.
Businesses are also being urged to take action to reduce plastic waste.
Tearfund estimates that two billion people globally are living with no safe way to dispose of rubbish, causing millions of deaths each year.
In places without adequate waste disposal facilities, plastic is often dumped or burnt in backyards, on the street and in open dumps, releasing toxic fumes.
The public demonstration coincided with International Waste Pickers' Day to highlight the plight of people who collect plastic and other recyclables from homes, streets and dump sites for little pay and often in dangerous conditions.
Tearfund said these workers often experience "stigma and discrimination".
The Christian humanitarian charity has launched a campaign demanding that the treaty include legally binding targets on plastic production and universal access to recycling. It also wants to see fair pay and support for waste pickers, and mechanisms committing businesses and governments to action.
Laura Young, Tearfund ambassador and waste campaigner, said that the treaty was a "historic opportunity to help people living in poverty".
"The reality is that plastic pollution kills, and this is being experienced first and hardest by the world's poorest and most vulnerable, who are most exposed to the toxic burning and dumping of rubbish," she said.
"What's more, the people doing the most to address this crisis - the 20 million people working as waste pickers - are often mistreated and underpaid. This is a huge injustice, especially given it's them who collect 60 per cent of the plastics that are recycled globally."
Maditlhare Koena, who works as a waste picker in South Africa and represents the International Alliance of Waste Pickers at the UN treaty negotiations, said: "It's vitally important that waste pickers are part of the treaty policy making process and that our voices are heard.
"As a mother and grandmother I began waste picking and selling recyclables to ensure we had meals on our table. I have brought women waste pickers together where I live so that we can have a stronger voice as one.
"A strong treaty must provide and guarantee better and decent work, social protection, more training opportunities and greater job security for workers."
Aaron Lewani, Tearfund project manager and campaigner in Malawi, added, "We have been fighting in the courts and won a ban on thin plastic bags in 2019, but companies have taken out an injunction on this.
"All you need to do is look at our cities, they are covered in plastics and they are blocking the drains, contributing to this cholera outbreak. Because of this, people are dying, we desperately need a global tool like the treaty to get plastic pollution under control."