EcoWatch: Plastic Pollution Has Breached ‘Planetary Boundary’

A participant takes part in a beach clean-up on Hong Kong's outlying Lamma island on May 27, 2018. - More than two thousand volunteers hit the beach on an outlying island of Hong Kong for a mass rubbish clean-up on May 27 as environment campaigners warned plastic is killing sea …
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty

The introduction of “novel entities,” especially plastics, into the environment has now exceeded earth’s “planetary boundary,” EcoWatch reported Tuesday.

Novel entities, or “manufactured chemicals that do not appear naturally in large quantities and have the potential to disrupt Earth’s systems,” join global warming, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the list of destructive phenomena that have exceeded our planetary boundaries, Olivia Rosane writes for EcoWatch.

According to the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC), scientists have identified nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. Planetary boundaries would represent thresholds within which “humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.”

“Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes,” SRC asserts.

In her article, Ms. Rosane cites a study published this week in Environmental Science and Technology, which argues that “the planetary boundary for novel entities has been exceeded by human activity.”

Patricia Villarubia-Gómez, co-author of the study, told EcoWatch that humanity’s production of plastics and other novel entities currently surpasses what the earth can handle.

“The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals and other novel entities into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity,” she said.

“For a long time, people have known that chemical pollution is a bad thing,” said Dr. Sarah Cornell, another study co-author. “But they haven’t been thinking about it at the global level. This work brings chemical pollution, especially plastics, into the story of how people are changing the planet.”

Among all manufactured chemicals plastics are “especially concerning,” the study argues, both because of the quantity being produced and their diverse chemical makeup that can “enter the environment in new combinations when they degrade.”

“The whole production cycle of plastics carries climate impacts,” the study warns, and “plastics may also affect biodiversity through physical impacts, for example, via entanglement or ingestion, adding to other large pressures on biodiversity.”

“The understanding of what is harmful or hazardous from a planetary perspective has thus expanded to include effects beyond toxicity as the current major focus of chemicals management,” it declares.

The authors recommend “taking urgent action to reduce the harm associated with exceeding the boundary by reducing the production and releases of novel entities, noting that even so, the persistence of many novel entities and/or their associated effects will continue to pose a threat.”

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