At the limit of planetary boundaries

September 23, 2019

A team from the Stockholm Resilience Center (1) recently explored the issue of marine plastic pollution under consideration of a holistic global view, including all affected earth systems. The main question was to define, whether marine plastic pollution can be confirmed being a chemical pollution planetary boundary problem.

But what is a planetary boundary? It’s framework defines it as precautionary boundaries for a variety of human-induced disturbances on a functioning and healthy Earth system. The aim of these boundaries is to avoid passing the threshold beyond the “safe operating space for humanity” (2).

When it now comes to plastic pollution, there is a clear environmental impact record of the bridge between pre- and post-plastic times. By definition, a chemical pollutant as a planetary boundary threat needs to have irreversible negative impacts on the environment – and it has been confirmed, that marine plastic pollution, unfortunately, will always comply with this premise.

As with every global problem, condolence and public awareness about this urgent threat being a planetary boundary might boost actions taken to minimize the impacts on the environment and our all health. However, independent on whether marine plastic pollution is legally integrated into planetary boundary policies, its impacts and threats to require urgent and elaborated management.

1. Stockholm Resilience Center,
2. Villarrubia-Gómez, P., Cornell, S. E., & Fabres, J. (2018). Marine plastic pollution as a planetary boundary threat–The drifting piece in the sustainability puzzle. Marine Policy, 96, 213-220.

Picture of the Planetary Boundaries here:

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Planetary Boundaries