Pollutants including plastics have crossed safe planetary boundary

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https://www.alpenhornnews.com/Pollutants including plastics have crossed safe planetary boundary

We humans are getting good at creating waste comprising of chemicals, plastics and what not. Researchers have determined that we have become so good at it that we have managed to surpass the safe planetary boundary for waste.

Researchers have for the first time assessed the impact on the stability of the Earth system of the cocktail of synthetic chemicals and other “novel entities” flooding the environment. They have concluded in the scientific journal Science and Technology that humanity has exceeded a planetary boundary related to environmental pollutants including plastics.

We have managed to increase our capacity to produce chemicals by 50-fold since 1950. And if the current rate of increase continues we will be tripling that by 2050. There are an estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market. These include plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, chemicals in consumer products, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. These are all wholly novel entities, created by human activities with largely unknown effects on the Earth system.  Significant volumes of these novel entities enter the environment each year.

According to researchers the rate at which we are dumping these pollutants on Earth far exceeds the capacity of governments to assess global and regional risks, let alone control any potential problems.

In 2009, an international team of researchers identified nine planetary boundaries that demarcate the remarkably stable state Earth has remained within for 10,000 years - since the dawn of civilization. These boundaries include greenhouse gas emissions, the ozone layer, forests, freshwater and biodiversity. The researchers quantified the boundaries that influence Earth’s stability,  and concluded in 2015 that four boundaries have been breached. But the boundary for  novel entities was one of two boundaries that remained unquantified. This new research takes this a step further.

The researchers say there are many ways that chemicals and plastics have negative effects on planetary health,  from mining, fracking and drilling to extract raw materials to production and waste management.

Global production and consumption of novel entities is set to continue to grow. The total mass of plastics on the planet is now over twice the mass of all living mammals, and roughly 80{481377d3901f707a27be0b17051cda45e332f52f06cba484c528bedb49914068} of all plastics ever produced remain in the environment. Plastics contain over 10,000 other chemicals, so their environmental degradation creates new combinations of materials – and unprecedented environmental hazards. Production of plastics is set to increase and predictions indicate that the release of plastic pollution to the environment will rise too, despite huge efforts in many countries  to reduce waste.

The researchers conclude that current increasing trends of chemical production and release put  the health of the Earth  system at risk. The authors call for actions to reduce the production and release of pollutants.

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