The UN Environment Assembly will begin in Nairobi on February 28th and work to create a legally binding international treaty against plastic pollution. This is despite the fact that one study shows that plastics and chemicals have been produced at a rate that exceeds our ability to monitor them and threatens critical systems we depend on.
The new study by the researchers concluded that chemical pollution has crossed a global boundary. The idea of The boundaries of the solar systemThis concept of a safe operating area for humanity was first proposed over a decade ago. There were nine, including climate, biodiversity and acidification. These thresholds could be breached and cause irreversible or large-scale environmental change.
There is no quantitative limit for pollutants like plastics, which are now called novel entities because many of them do not exist on Earth before. This is in contrast to climate change.
We started, but have always stumbled. It’s like a mind-bending exercise trying to figure out how to evaluate 350,000 chemicals for their ability to disrupt the Earths systems. How would you count that number? We’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t have a number. Cynthia de WitThe department of analytical chemistry and environmental science at Stockholm University.
De Wit is part of an international team that studies this topic. ProposedA series of control variables could be used to help you make a judgment. She suggests that without control variables, there is no way to push for policy changes or solutions.
The researchers examined whether a process such as global plastics production could be measured and linked to earth system functions. This would allow them to capture the planetary scale of this problem.
They acknowledge that not all of the variables they suggest, such as trends in the production of hazardous chemicals, meet all three criteria. However, they believe that together they could be used to inform and signal risk.
They use the trend in the production of chemicals to approximate the total chemical burden. Although the full data aren’t always available, it is clear that trends have been established for substances such as plastics and pesticides. The production volumes have increased and will continue to increase rapidly. The authors highlight that even though one group of chemicals is limited due to harms such as bisphenol-A in polycarbonate plastics it does not mean that production is reduced, but rather a shift to related chemicals.
De Wit states that when production volume and emission rates exceed the rate at which we can risk-assess chemicals, then we have crossed a threshold. She cites EUs Reach’s chemical regulatory system. It has been in place for 10 years and still has to assess approximately 80% of chemicals that are not intermediates.
In the meantime, more than 150 countries have supported a resolution that Peru and Rwanda put forward to address plastic pollution and its associated problems over the course of their entire lives. China said in December that it would explore the possibility, while a group of countries supported the resolution. 74 businessesThese include financial institutions, consumer goods companies like Unilever and Danone, as well as plastic processors and producers like Borealis, Alpla, and Unilever. They argued that a global agreement should be made to prevent plastics from entering the environment, reduce virgin plastic production, and make it easier to use and decouple plastics production from fossil fuels.
Thava PalanisamiThe University of Newcastle in Australia, where he is researching the health effects of microplastics, says that the research was a good start and provides extensive evidence. He believes that the complexity of the situation is due to the impact of chemical combinations. His ResearchResearch has shown that microplastics in our environment can be used as a surface to form biofilms that can absorb perfluorooctane sulfurate and lead. This could potentially increase their ecotoxicity.
Palanisami supports calls from scientists to establish a UN body that addresses chemicals pollution. A fifth meeting of UN Environment Assembly, long delayed, is scheduled for next month. draft resolutionTo establish an international science panel for chemicals, pollution and waste. Six countries submitted their proposals, including the UK. Bob WatsonA former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ISPBC and ISPEB), he says that a science committee would enhance these ongoing processes and strengthen existing chemical conventions. Although it isn’t an action-oriented thing, it can tell the world the problems and offer solutions.
He does however point out two challenges: persuading government to spend $46 million (34.5million) per year to operate the panel, and making information, which is largely held in the private sector, freely accessible. He suggests that chemical companies be first partnered with those who are looking to become more sustainable. Watson believes that industry does not want to be controlled. They must be ahead of regulations to be more sustainable. If they can do this, they can capture a market that their competitors cannot. There are actually many people today who want sustainability in industry and will purchase products from a sustainable company over an unsustainable one.
De Wit and her coworkers say they aren’t naive to the enormous challenge of reducing plastic and chemical releases to preserve the planet’s boundary. She says that you don’t have to stop chemical production because chemicals will always be needed. You have to think about how you can make the system more sustainable and less likely that it will threaten the planet.