Plastic Pollution and the Planetary Boundaries framework

The Planetary Boundary framework states there are nine different measurable thresholds that human civilization should not cross in order to maintain the health of global systems. These include climate change, biodiversity, and novel chemicals, of which plastic is one. This report finds that the global scale of plastic pollution is affecting ecosystem health worldwide and is exacerbating other planetary boundaries.

The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change is published as the world confronts profound and concurrent systemic shocks.

Countries and health systems continue to contend with the serious health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a persistent fossil fuel overdependence has pushed the world into global energy and cost-of-living crises. As these crises unfold, climate change escalates unabated. Its worsening impacts are increasingly affecting the foundations of human health and wellbeing, exacerbating the vulnerability of the world’s populations to concurrent health threats.

The authors determined that 80% of the 86 governments studied were subsidizing fossil fuels in 2019, providing a collective $400bn. Yet “governments have so far failed to provide the smaller sum of $100bn per year to help support climate action in lower income countries,” note the report’s authors.

The report identifies 15 biggest oil and gas companies as remain sharply at odds with ending the climate emergency, “regardless of their climate claims and commitments.”

Using Lousiana Department of Natural Resources data, the “Unraveling Industry” microsite maps oil and gas infrastructure and impacts in Louisiana by company.

The data helps pinpoint who is responsible for petrochemical development and the injustice, pollution, and severe environmental degradation the oil and gas industries have caused in the region.

GAIA’s flagship climate report (released October 4, 2022) provides the most current, comprehensive research on how zero waste is an essential climate solution. Through the publication of this report alongside supplementary communications and advocacy materials, GAIA aims to support member-driven zero waste campaigns in your communities to give decisionmakers clear and decisive information on why they should invest in zero waste as a way to reduce climate emissions and build a just transition to a more climate-resilient future, providing a host of social, environmental, and economic benefits. 

The report contains four parts: 

  • Zero waste and climate mitigation: How zero waste is a critical strategy to hit GHG reduction targets 
  • Zero waste and climate adaptation: How zero waste helps cities become more resilient in the face of accelerating climate disasters
  • Co-benefits: How zero waste can bring about a just transition to more and better green jobs, reduce poverty, strengthen local economies and more
  • Case studies: A calculation of how many GHG emissions savings cities around the world could achieve if they were to adopt a slate of zero waste strategies

Much of what you’ve heard about plastic pollution may be wrong. Instead of a great island of trash, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of manmade debris spread over hundreds of miles of sea—more like a soup than a floating garbage dump. Recycling is more complicated than we were taught: less than nine percent of the plastic we create is reused, and the majority ends up in the ocean. And plastic pollution isn’t confined to the open ocean: it’s in much of the air we breathe and the food we eat.  

In Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, journalist Erica Cirino brings readers on a globe-hopping journey to meet the scientists and activists telling the real story of the plastic crisis. From the deck of a plastic-hunting sailboat with a disabled engine, to the labs doing cutting-edge research on microplastics and the chemicals we ingest, Cirino paints a full picture of how plastic pollution is threatening wildlife and human health. Thicker Than Water reveals that the plastic crisis is also a tale of environmental injustice, as poorer nations take in a larger share of the world’s trash, and manufacturing chemicals threaten predominantly Black and low-income communities.  

There is some hope on the horizon, with new laws banning single-use items and technological innovations to replace plastic in our lives. But Cirino shows that we can only fix the problem if we face its full scope and begin to repair our throwaway culture. Thicker Than Water is an eloquent call to reexamine the systems churning out waves of plastic waste. 

As the EU faces a looming gas shortage, EU countries are looking to consumers to shoulder the brunt of reductions and are pursuing deals to secure new fossil fuel supplies. At the same time, policymakers are leaving the plastics and petrochemicals sector untouched. A new report from Break Free From Plastic and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) explores the European market for plastics and petrochemicals, arguing that the EU can advance energy security by making cuts to these energy-intensive industries.

Led by Break Free From Plastic & CIEL, written by Amadeo Ghiotto and Delphine Lévi Alvarès. Published in September 2022