3 June 2020
Stientje van Veldhoven (D66) is trying to persuade companies to use less virgin
(new) plastic and more recycled material, for example by inviting them to join
the Plastic Pact. The reality is that the use of plastic continues to increase,
and the recycling industry is having difficulty finding a market for their
recyclate as virgin plastic can be bought at dump prices.
Shell – who has not sign the Plastic Pact – is investing billions of dollars in the US in a new plastics factor in Pennsylvania. Parliamentary questions have been asked and answered regarding this development.
Not her responsibility
Members of parliament asked the State Secretary whether the desired re-use of plastic can be realised when new plastic is so cheap. And whether she would be so good as to point out to Shell the negative results of their investment decision. In her answer, Van Veldhoven commented in April of this year that Shell’s investment decisions were not her responsibility. She said that she did not have insight ‘into the motives of oil companies to build plastics factories.’ Other answers were similarly evasive. Van Veldhoven could not confirm that the re-use of plastic is thwarted because virgin plastic is much too cheap.
Van Veldhoven obviously knows very well what is going on. It’s explained in great detail in the memorandum that NRK Recycling drew up at her request and sent to her in January. This analysis concerns the competitive disadvantage of recyclate when compared to plastics based on oil or gas. The drafters of the memorandum warn that the ambition to achieve a circular plastics economy will only be reached if the government is willing to intervene.
In answer to the question whether or not the Shell factory undermined her efforts to achieve an International Plastic Pact, the State Secretary stated that the two were not necessarily in conflict with each other. “Shell can partly meet the growing worldwide demand for plastic by using plastic waste as raw material for their plastics production factories (also known as ‘feedstock recycling’). I understand from the media that Shell has plans in this direction. More recycling is in line with the objectives of our national Plastic Pact and also the recently concluded European Plastic Pact.”
MP’s are being misled here. The Pennsylvania plastics factory will use only ethane, a shale gas by-product, as its feedstock. Ethane is used to produce polyethylene (PE), which in turn is used to produce plastic packaging, among other things. Moreover, there is absolutely no question of feedstock recycling that can meet ‘part of the demand’ for plastic, as the State Secretary would have us believe. It’s true that Shell has a pilot project elsewhere in the United Stated to make oil from plastic waste via pyrolysis , but that is not relevant to the point in question.
In answer to the question whether she was willing to make it clear to Shell that the building of a new plastics factory was very undesirable, van Veldhoven answered that she would happily engage with Shell to discuss “the contribution the company can make to the circular economy.”
It’s all just word
A group of concerned scientists and experts sent an open letter last March in which they expressed their grave concern about the investment of billions by Shell in new plastic. “We call on Shell and the banks, insurance companies and pension funds who invest in Shell to call a halt to their irresponsible investments in plastic, and we urge Shell to sign up to the European Plastic Pact.” The letter points out the responsibility incumbent on the Dutch government. Policy needs to be drafted to prevent investment in new plastic, even if that investment is outside the national borders.
Even more plastic soup
Shell is one of the multinationals who founded the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a partnership that has about $1.5 billion available to combat plastic pollution. The Guardian calculated that this amount pales into insignificance when compared to the investments made in plastic by multinationals like Shell. Shell declines to comment regarding the level of investment in the controversial Pennsylvania factory, estimates suggest that this is between six and ten billion dollars.
It seems very much as
if the pyrolysis project and participation in the AEPW are meant to divert the
attention from Shell’s investments in plastic, investments which will only
serve to deepen the problem of plastic soup.
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