United Nations Environment Program

Topic 1: Management and Prevention of “Space Junk”

Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of pieces of artificial material at various stages of orbit around the planet Earth. This material is more commonly known as “Space Junk”, or “Space Debris”.

Space junk, much like waste on Earth, can pose very real threats to those in its vicinity, and to the environment overall. According to NASA, space junk travels at a speed of 17,500mph (28164km/h.) This is enough to cause significant damage to spacecraft or satellites. If a large piece of space junk were to collide with the International Space Station, for instance, human lives could be directly at risk. Man-made debris smaller than 1mm has been cause for window replacement on space shuttles in the past, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It is possible that Low Earth Orbit (≤2000km above the atmosphere) may become unusable in the future due to the amount of space junk, greatly hindering (or altogether disabling) our capacity to operate satellites or various forms of spacecraft.

The European Space Agency (ESA) suggests various methods for space junk mitigation, such as the prevention of collisions and the removal of mass from orbit. They also suggest that inactive satellites be commanded to return to Earth at the end of their lifespan in order to lessen the possibility of more collisions.

Currently, the United States, Russia, and China are the three largest contributors to the present amount of space junk. 

Topics that might come up in committee include the mitigation of current space junk and prevention of any future potential debris, regulation of satellite objects, amount of space junk, contribution to materials presently in orbit, etc.

Sources and Further Reading:

Topic 2: Addressing Distribution and Management of International Waste 

Each year, the amount of waste produced by humans continues to grow, and options for waste disposal become more scarce.

In the spring of 2019, media attention turned to Canada when 69 containers worth of garbage were shipped back to Vancouver after they had been illegally dumped in the Philippines under the guise of containing recycling plastics. Getting the trash back to Canada cost its government $1.14 million.

Many other countries have turned to shipping their waste elsewhere (often to developing countries) for reasons such as domestic landfill reduction and saving money. Increasingly, though, the waste is being sent back to the original countries.

The countries which have received the most foreign waste to date are Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, India and Poland.

Possible speaking points for this topic might be ceasing the shipping of international waste, how to potentially send back waste, and mitigation going forward.

Further Reading:

UNEP – Waste Management: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/disasters-conflicts/where-we-work/south-sudan/waste-management 

CBC – Ship carrying Canadian trash[…]: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/garbage-containers-return-1.5195007  

Waste Generation Per Capita: https://www.purposeplus.com/world/indicators/waste-generation-per-capita/  

Our World In Data: Plastic Pollution: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution  

BBC News – Why some countries are shipping back plastic waste: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-48444874  

Waste Atlas: http://www.atlas.d-waste.com/