November 28, 2022

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Almost all chemicals are harmful to the planet

Researchers from ETH Zürich have calculated the environmental impact for the first time fact From the production of chemicals (perfume ingredients, pesticides, fertilizers…), considering not only polluting emissions, but also the direct impact on the planet’s resources, such as water consumption or ocean acidification. “Our method compares the resources that chemicals consume with our planet’s environmental budget,” explains Gonzalo Guillen Gosalbez, Coordinator A study published in Green Chemistry.

The results are disappointing: more than 99% of the 492 materials analyzed are not environmentally sustainable. Its production, often starting from fossil raw materials, consumes more natural resources than the Earth can provide in the long run.

Not just emissions. Sustainability is usually calculated by taking into account the ecological footprint of the entire useful life of a given product, from production to disposal: however, the researchers note that this approach will not allow an assessment of its global impact on the natural ecosystem. Javier Pérez Ramírez, one of the authors, stresses that “climate change is not the only aspect that needs to be taken into account”: “If we focus only on solutions aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we may end up shifting the environmental burden to other categories, causing cause collateral damage.”

What we actually consider solutions Green color Not always: Biofuels like those derived from corn or wood, for example, emit much less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, but they make extensive use of land, water, and fertilizer to produce the necessary biomass. For this reason, the researchers decided to take into account not only polluting emissions, but also planetary boundariesa concept that includes all the processes that occur within the “Earth System”, and which charts a framework in which we must remain, with our actions, so as not to overburden the planet and endanger habitats and biodiversity.

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cross the lines. More than 99% of the 492 chemicals analyzed exceed at least one limit, even in some cases 100 or even 200 times. In general, the planetary boundaries that are most often crossed are those related to carbon emissions – and thus related to climate change, ocean acidification and biosphere integrity. “The message is clear: we can and must act now, abandoning the use of fossil raw materials in favor of more environmentally sustainable products,” concludes Guillen Gosalbez, who with his colleague hopes to soon find the best solution for the environment and economy, which combines the different technologies available in an efficient way And environmentally friendly.