The plastic soup is also a planetary boundary

Amsterdam, 16 January 2019 – The oceans are under pressure due to the increase of the plastic soup. Plastic affects not just individual animals, but also penetrates food chains. An important question is whether the plastic soup has a critical limit. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has indicated nine planetary boundaries for the Earth, among which climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and chemical pollution. When these planetary boundaries are exceeded, ecological restoration is almost impossible. Plastic pollution is not yet in this list.

Scientists have recently argued that plastic soup should also be one of the planetary boundaries. At least two of the three criteria for the planetary boundary of chemical pollution are also valid for the plastic soup: plastic in the environment is irreversible (it is not or hardly possible to clean up, particularly the microplastics) and plastic is present everywhere (and the concentration increases). The third criterion is the disruptive effect on marine ecosystems, or even wider: the effect on System Earth. To date, the question how the plastic soup affects this system, remains unanswered. To that end, it first needs to be determined how exactly this effect can be established. But, according to the researchers, plastic pollution certainly has all kinds of ecological consequences and hence there is every reason to believe that plastic also has or will have a negative effect on System Earth.

The researchers have also a pragmatic reason to include the plastic soup in the widely accepted framework of the planetary boundaries. It will then presumably be easier to reach agreement on the international approach; curbing the plastic soup internationally has not been successful yet.