Humanity has released numerous substances into the environment that were not there before: plastics, dyes, fire retardants, etc. Since they were rarely or never involved in evolutionary processes, organisms have not been able to develop strategies to cope with them. This boundary is exceeded.

It is estimated that there are 350,000 chemicals on the global market, ranging from solvents and pesticides to medicines. Plastics, which are artificial materials made of synthetic polymers, are also produced in chemical processes and contain plasticizers, dyes and flame retardants. Some of these substances that humanity has introduced into the environment can have an impact on the health of humans and other living beings, for example because they can cause cancer or have the potential to disturb the hormone system.

In the planetary boundaries concept, chemicals and plastics are counted among the substances that are foreign to nature and the Earth system, substances to which living things have been unable to adapt through evolution. These substances, which are part of a collective category called “novel entities” that also includes radioactive waste, heavy metals and rare earths, have only become widely distributed in the environment through human activity.

A specific factsheet including Belgian situation will be available for download June 24.

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