Technology cannot fix this: To stay within planetary boundaries, plastic growth must be tackled

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Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, Bethanie Carney Almroth, Kristian Syberg, Tridibesh Dey, Melanie Bergmann, Susanne M Brander, Alicia Mateos Cardenas, Jeremy Conkle, Therese Karlsson, Neil Tangri, Sedat Gündoğdu, Tony Walker, Marcus Eriksen, Mengjiao Wang, Rebecca Altman, Anja Krieger, Sarah Elisabeth Cornell


In this Matters Arising, we respond to a recent article by Bachmann et al.1 We argue that dealing with plastics pollution as a novel entity within the planetary boundaries framework needs to consider the entirety of the plastics life cycle, from resource extraction to impacts on earth system processes. Singling out LCA quantifications to set a boundary for recycling plastics is not only an unviable myth but may be a dangerous approach. Bachmann et al.1 argue that it is possible to maintain business as usual and move the economy ‘towards circular plastics’ while staying within planetary boundaries. The authors’ solutions rest on poorly operationalized terms and unrealistic estimates, which over-state what technological solutions can achieve and risk locking the world into an even more plastic-intensive future. We see major flaws in their baseline assumptions and aim to better define and contextualize plastics pollution within Earth systems.






Published: 2023-05-10 20:44

Last Updated: 2023-05-13 06:47

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Conflict of interest statement:
The authors declare no competing interest. However, the following authors would like to make a statement of transparency. Rebecca Altman serves on the Board of Directors for the Science and Environmental Health Network. Neil Tangri is employed by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. Mengjiao Wang is employed by Greenpeace Research Laboratories. Anja Krieger has worked as a freelance audio editor for a podcast series for the NGO Break Free From Plastic. We define a COI as having incompatible outcomes, often driven by financial interests which can introduce unconscious biases or purposefully muddy waters, confuse narratives and delay action. This should not be confused with an ‘interest’ in which a party has a goal associated with a field of research, or scientific or environmental practice.