Issue: Direct pressure of human activities on the land - Pollution to and from the land

This is an issue under the Land theme of the Data Reporting System.

Why we need to know about this issue

Pollution of the land can result from disposal of waste and other emissions from human settlements, industry and other activities. Pollution of the land can impact directly on terrestrial biota. If stored in agricultural plants and animals, it can potentially impact back on human life via food residues. If contaminated land is used for some other human purpose, humans can be affected by contaminants in the environment. Pollutants can be washed into surface waters or absorbed into groundwater, affecting both aquatic ecosystems and human drinking water. Ultimately they can be washed into the ocean, affecting coastal ecosystems and again potentially impacting back on human settlements via residues in harvested marine life.

Pollution from land-based activities can result from a number of sources, including the use of pesticides and fertilisers, and emissions from agriculture and mining and mineral processing. Emissions from land-based activities can have similar impacts to emissions from other human activities, including impacts on biodiversity, inland waters, the atmosphere, the coasts and oceans, heritage sites and human settlements.

Dust from bare soil and smoke from land cover burning can also place pressure across the whole environment but these pressures are dealt with under Land: Pressures and contributions between the land and the atmosphere: Airborne substances . Similarly, pollution of coastal waters by acid sulfate soils is dealt with under Coasts and oceans: Pressures and contributions between the land and coasts and oceans: Effects of changes in the land on the oceans  and Land: Contributions and pressures between the land and inland water - Pressures of changes to the land on inland waters .


  • LD-21 Area of land used for landfill 
    Since solid waste from human settlements is generally sent to landfill, it is important to have a measure to keep track of both the actual volume of waste sent into the land, and the area of land used for disposal of this waste.
  • LD-22 Rate of violations of residue levels in harvested products 
    Contamination by human activities of organic materials harvested from the land for human consumption is technically a pressure directly from human activities on human life. However, as a surrogate for movement of contaminants through the terrestrial food chain, residues in food can be seen as an indicator of pressure from a range of human activities on terrestrial ecosystems.
  • LD-36 Emissions to the land 
    Pollution, from all sources, that ends up in or on the land, on vegetation or on animals or in the soil, may impact on those life forms directly and also has the potential to infiltrate the food chain and affect the health of a potentially very wide range of species.
  • LD-37 Emissions from activities that derive contributions from the land 
    This indicator is specifically to show the pollution costs of the contributions the land makes to human life. Other anthropogenic land-based sources of emissions (eg industry and human settlements) are therefore not relevant to this issue. The NPI gives some indication of large quantities of various pollutants that are emitted from identifiable land-based activity sources such as intensive agriculture and mining.
  • HS-53 Total solid waste produced and disposed 
    Solid and hazardous waste from human settlements is a primary source of land pollution.
  • IW-15 Volume of sewage discharged to land
    Some sewage treatment plants discharge directly to the land. Sewage treatment plant discharges are a major source of pathogens. Most sewage treatment plants disinfect their discharges to kill pathogens, but the effectiveness and reliability of disinfection varies with flow and age of the sewage treatment plant. Discharge to land is often regarded as more environmentally beneficial because it reduces the impact on the waterways.
    Volume of sewage discharged to land is a direct measure of this pressure, relative to discharges to water ways, and may assist in comparing impacts.
  • IW-16 Total pesticide use 
    Agricultural use of the land frequently involves the use of pesticides which impact directly back on the land and its biodiversity as well as washing into inland waters where they place pressure on water quality, aquatic biodiversity and the downstream terrestrial life which relies on the waterway for its water supply. Total pesticide use is a direct measure of this pressure.

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