Mopping up with the plastic-soup tap left open….

Recycling. A word that makes me happy. Like the swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of the skipping rope as pretty young girls in their light summer frocks jump up and down on a glorious sunny day. The effortless movement that seems able to go on for ever, Leonardo da Vinci’s perpetual motion machine. Recycling sounds like healthy, economical and sensible. Something which everybody would support and to which nobody could object.

If I think of recycling, I think of pumpkin peel, broccoli stumps and all the other vegetable scraps that are left over in my kitchen: I drop it in the recycling bin and later on I buy it back as compost to pamper my garden. I think of my cupboards, too small to offer sanctuary to everything which I wanted to save. It’s all languishing in the second-hand shop now, waiting to start a new life in a new collection tomorrow. Nothing but praise for recycling.

Initially, recycling plastic also sounded like music to my ears. It sounded to me like a happy solution for the devilish problem of the plastic that has been taking a continually stronger grasp on our world: the plastic bottles, bags, chairs – what isn’t made of plastic these days? – that ends up as litter on our streets and in our rivers, flowing to the sea where it – disintegrating to ever-smaller pieces – chokes the stomachs of unfortunate birds and fish. Or the plastic microfibers that float through the air and threaten our health. Recycling seemed a decisive step in the battle against that kind of misery.

Until I started looking at the figures.

The amount of newly-produced, un-recycled plastic in the world is growing at a tremendous rate. An additional 380 billion tons in 2018, within 10 years that means 530 billion tons of plastic per year. Exactly how much ends up as litter – in the fields, in the water or in the air – is not known, at least 16 billion kilos per year, maybe a lot more. Large multinational companies argue that all their plastic packaging will use recycled raw materials by 2025. That sounds impossible to achieve, but apart from that: it’s still plastic packaging. And a percentage of that will still end up in the ocean, the “lungs” of the word. Or in our own lungs.

Now, if I think of plastic recycling, I no longer think of girls having fun with their skipping rope, but of poor wretches mopping up the mess while the plastic soup continues to gush from the open tap. A PET bottle made of recycled plastic may use less petroleum to produce than a bottle made of new plastic – and that’s good – but we will not solve The Big Plastic Problem by migrating to recycled plastic.

The only real solution has the simplicity of a light summer frock: bring less plastic products to market. As a start: no more single-use plastics, like PET bottles and plastic bags. And the plastic that does still reach the shelves: collect it efficiently, for example with a deposit scheme.

Surrounded as we are by so many clever people in this world, surely we can start this movement without too much trouble?

Swoosh…….Swoosh……..Swoosh……..

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The secret of anti-wrinkle cream

My grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by a large crowd of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Bewilderment seemed to have the upper hand every time she was congratulated with reaching the milestone. “One hundred years old….” she murmured contentedly, and you could see her drifting back to memories of the little girl who clattered through the Frisian village on her wooden clogs almost a century earlier. Her back was mis-formed like an old apple tree, and her dark-blue party dress hung on her body like a scarecrow. But what really impressed us grandchildren was her deeply-lined face. Deeply furrowed, like a crumpled-up piece of paper.

When I reached the respectable age of 30, my friends teased me with a pot of Oil of Olaz to fight off my rapidly approaching old age. On the TV, the product was highly recommended by a lady in her fifties with the skin of a twenty year old. It was not quite clear how she managed that: “The secret of a young skin is the secret of Olaz”.

Cosmetics manufacturers seem totally dedicated to wrinkle-free feminine skin. Year after year, new potions appear on the market that seem to promise an everlastingly youthful skin. The website promises visible results if I religiously anoint myself with Olaz Total Effects for a period of 28 days. And there are photos to prove it, the “before” and “after”.

At the request of the Plastic Soup Foundation, the VU University Amsterdam tested one of the anti-wrinkle cream (Olaz SPF15 moisturiser day cream). The result? Every pot contains about 1.5 million tiny bits of polyethylene: in other words, plastic. Each time you use the cream, you rub about 90.000 bits of plastic in to your face.

Chances are that you swallow some of the plastic if you get it on your lips or there’s some left on your fingers. The plastic particles that the researchers found are so small that they could make their way through your intestinal wall and end up in your blood or your organs. Whether that really happens, and the consequences for your health if it is indeed the case, is as yet unknown.

The present I received on my 30th is still in the cupboard, untouched. I value it as a fond memory. It may serve to keep my spirit young, but not my skin. My skin is beginning to show the tell-tale signs of a 50-plusser from before the Olaz generation: contentedly on its way to resembling a screwed-up piece of paper, plastic-free paper.

Renske Postma

(Photo: Jeroen Gosse)

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My plastic diary

Seven o’clock, and there’s an icy storm blowing outside. My warm fleece jumper is covered in cat’s hairs, so I give it a good shake. Plastic microfibers fly all over the place. They get in to my lungs, and for all I know they settle in to the lung tissue. With dirt and all, as the jumper was not too clean. I’m glad I don’t have asthma.

It’s time to get blown away in the park on my morning walk. There’s an empty plastic chips tray floating in the pond. I fish it out and throw it in the rubbish bin. Some viruses and bacteria feel very much at home on plastic, more so than in the wild. I bet they have now hitched a lift on the tiny scraps of plastic that have stayed behind on my fingertips.

A little later, I’m struggling through a complicated report. I can’t seem to concentrate. Is that lack of caffeine, or is my brain full of plastic as well? I wash that last thought away with a big sip of cappuccino.

My tummy begins to rumble. Biological multigrain crackers, cheese and humus on the menu: all hygienically packed in plastic. My lunch has been surreptitiously seasoned with tiny pieces of nanoplastic. They end up in my intestines and who knows, maybe they pass through my intestinal wall in to my blood and lymphatic system. That doesn’t seem healthy: but maybe I will be well-preserved…..

I have a productive afternoon, typing away on my plastic keys, using my mobile in its nice plastic protective cover, making notes with my plastic pen. And then it’s time to clear my head with a run.  My comfy synthetic sports clothes leave minute plastic particles on my skin, so small that they might be able to worm their way in to my cells. I make way for a brand-new mother with a pram. Did her baby already feed on plastic in the womb, via the placenta and the umbilical cord? He looks quite normal….

The running clothes go straight in to the washing machine and the dryer, so that they are nice and fresh for tomorrow.  As soon as I open the door of the dryer, another cloud of microfibers makes a beeline for my lungs.

Hubby is in the kitchen, stirring mussels and fish through the paella. They, of course, have been eating from the plastic soup in the ocean. The plastic has been accumulating in their fishy bodies, and will now move in to mine. When I go to bed later for a well-earned sleep, illegal micro- and nanoplastics may be pioneering their way through my body. If that is indeed the case, then I hope that my immune system will arrest them and throw them out, just as it would with other foreign bodies: although it’s not known whether that actually works with plastic.

Tomorrow, seven o’clock, a new plastic day begins. A new round of breathing, eating and drinking plastic. Fifteen researchers are going to investigate what that has been doing to my health. That’s both good and bad news. I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle, but for certainty’s sake I should maybe start a plastic diet…….

 

Renske Postma

 

Photo by Jeroen Gosse

 

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The dirty truth about cigarette filters

Blue smoke curls up from my terrace. After the last puff, a flesh-coloured filter is thrown carefully into the garden, disappearing between the roses and the rhododendrons. I’m shocked. I think it’s messy, cigarette filters in my garden, on the street and on the beach.  “Don’t worry, it will disappear” is the standard reply to my mild disgust. And that always silences me: if it’s going to disappear, am I not being too critical to make a point of it?

My shock deepens after reading the dirty truth about cigarette filters on the CNN website. The reality? There is cellulose acetate in cigarette filters, a kind of plastic that only disappears under extreme circumstances. That might be OK in a wastewater treatment plant: but in my garden or on the beach the filters are almost indestructible. There they will gradually disintegrate into continually smaller particles which, in the end, will be invisible to the naked eye. It looks as if the filter has disappeared: but the plastic is still there. It’s in the soil and in the water. And who knows: maybe it’s in my roses and in the frog-spawn as well….

There are a mind-blowing number of cigarette butts littering the world. It’s the number one plastic item that we throw away. Every year, 6 trillion cigarettes are sold: 90% have a plastic filter. That’s more than a million tons of plastic rubbish. Clean-ups on the Dutch tourist beaches have shown the same result: the cigarette filter is the most commonly-found plastic item. And yes: as I stroll along the loose sand on the beach, I often feel a filter between my toes.

Cigarette filters don’t contain only plastic, but also a cocktail of toxic substances: arsenic (rat poison!), lead, nicotine and pesticides. As the filter disintegrates, the chemicals seep into the soil or the water. A university in the US did a test with fishes: they let them swim around in water where cigarette filters had been floating for 24 hours (one filter per litre of water). After a coupe of days, half of the fish were dead.

Filters were invented to improve the health of smokers. They don’t, according to another survey. The chance of getting lung cancer actually increases as a result of the filter.

I wish that I could say that I was too critical with my disgust for cigarette filters. I would happily accept all those filters shot between my roses and rhododendrons – and those between my toes on the beach. But the truth is unfortunately much dirtier than I thought.

Luckily, the solution is easy: it’s there just waiting to be picked up. Ban the filter cigarette.

Everybody – and everything – wins.

Renske Postma

Photo by Jeroen Gosse

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The plastic broth in my body…

Thanks to Dutch national hero Boyan Slat, we all know the truth these days: our oceans are full of plastic. Even in the Mariana Trench, a trough in the western Pacific Ocean, miniscule pieces of plastic still swirl around at a depth of almost seven miles. A long way away, was my initial reaction: but now it seems that our own North Sea is also a well-filled plastic soup and even the gentle River Maas carries raw plastic rubbish. Now I’m only waiting for the news that there’s plastic in the ground water under my feet. That will be the end of it, it can’t come any closer. I thought. I hoped.

Until somebody thrust a list under my nose. A list full of things that I use every day. Some of them made from plastic, others which I would never have dreamt contained plastic: tea bags, table salt, honey, beer…..

The Plastic Soup Foundation and the VU University Amsterdam will this year be researching what the effect is on our bodies. A question which had never occurred to me….

The test list includes the plastic kettle, and in my imagination I clearly remember the trusty, bubbling machine that brightened my kitchen for many years. Hundreds of pots of tea I made with that machine. My mind conjures up a memory of a convivial cloud of steam. The test will tell me whether or not I was swallowing tiny pieces of microplastic, hardening agent and flame retardant as I slurped my tea. Oops.

The test list contains more surprises. It’s probable that I am massaging poisonous plasticisers and nanoplastic particles in to my skin every day as I apply my super-soft day cream. Sunscreen, shower cream, shampoo, make-up: same story. I begin to feel a bit uncomfortable, and quickly pass over the question what the plasticizers that are apparently included in tampons may be doing to me…..

My house turns out to be full of plastics that the researchers want to investigate with regard to their effect on my health. Those handy bottles and containers in the kitchen. The sport clothes that make me feel so fit. The warm fleece blanket that I wrap myself in on the couch. My yoga mat for those quiet moments. The rug in front of the fire, the curtains, even the paint on the walls. Is a bit of all of those things now part of the inner me?

It’s hard to buy an apple any more that has not been made more attractive by the application of a shiny coating of plastic. To be safe, it will be tested for all kinds of undesirable substances: plasticisers and hardening agents, flame retardants, fluorides, micro- and nanoplastics. It’s known that these substances are in some way related to a lot of the typical ailments of our time, such as ADHD, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. I’m in two minds: do I really want to know?

In the end, it’s the inclusion of milk powder for babies on the list that really gets my attention. Even that contains tiny particles of plastic. So we are feeding on plastic, every day, starting from our earliest days. In that way, the soup is very close to home: it seems I may have my own plastic broth in my body.

I need to know more about that.

 

Translated from a Dutch-language column by Renske Postma

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The ultimate plastic diet to reduce your plastic footprint

Amsterdam, 17 January 2019 – We all consume too much plastic. Literally. There is plastic in the food we eat, the water we drink and even the air we breathe. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is that when plastic enters our body it can make us sick. The chemicals in plastic and plastic particles may cause cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, arthritis, impotency and even harm babies in the womb.

According to the EU, each year an average European citizen creates about 31 kgs. of single-use plastic waste. The current overconsumption of plastic must be reduced — not by banning all plastics, but by going on a ‘plastic diet’. We all need to go on a ‘plastic diet’: companies, retailers, governments, and individuals alike. For this reason, the Plastic Soup Foundation has developed the Ultimate Plastic Diet.

A sustainable alternative to plastic bags for fruits and vegetables.

The diet revolves around tackling the concerns about plastic affecting human health, avoiding leakage of plastic into the environment and aiming for absolute reduction of plastic production.

But, how does it work? We have divided the ‘plastic diet’ into six different areas: bathroom, kitchen, travel, leisure, household and garden. In each of these categories there are a list of avoidable plastics as well as an alternative to them. This diet is for everybody who wants to make a difference in their plastic consumption, from the absolute beginners to the eco-heads out there.

We understand that a strict plastic diet is very difficult and impractical to follow. Everyday plastics like those found in your car, your phone, or your laptop are unavoidable. This diet provides you with tools to make a difference, starting with reducing the single-use plastics in your daily life. We do not advise you to throw away the long-term use plastic items you have around your household because they can last for long; but we do advise you to always ask yourself one question whenever you want to buy something new: is there a plastic-free alternative for this?

That’s why we want to make this diet easy, by walking hand in hand with you to help you reduce your overall plastic footprint. One item at a time.

Are you ready to accept the challenge of a plastic-free diet?

FRANCOBLOGGO V: It’s a wrap!

Having had some space to reflect on our month of plastic free living, it’s time to assess how we, the common every-person, can adapt to lessen our everyday plastic use.

The first observation is that, in spite of there still being a long way to go, there are lots of companies beginning to make a change in their policies. Not just that, but reflecting it in their PR and advertising. My local chain supermarket is soon to be adopting paper based shopping bags. A bar near me is going to sell ring-pull cans of water, rather than bottles, that can be recycled after use. Both these places have big colourful adverts hanging up in their stores boasting about this positive change.

If you think about it – they are still companies who are in need of profit and revenue. They still have to cowtow to their superiors. Us the consumer. They wouldn’t dare alienate their customers by pushing an unwanted agenda. They know that this will get them noticed, get them press, get more people in the door, and land them more money. Cynical thought, I know. But the big positive here is that they are reacting to us the consumer. We are beginning to demand more ethical and sustainable practices in our everyday lives. It’s not that they have just started listening, it is that we have started shouting louder. And that’s great!

Living a plastic free life is challenging to say the least. Our lifestyles have become accelerated, but delicate like a tea trolley with a ferarri engine. We can move fast, but it won’t take much for everything to crash. So we feed this lifestyle with quick things. Quick food. Quick entertainment. Quick conversations. Plastic is perfect for this existence. So we need to address societal pressures and expectations as much as we do the products we use.

We also need to get our facts straight and pay more attention to news that isn’t sexy, and fashionable. Unsexy news is more likely to keep us alive longer. A recent article from Bloomberg stated that the big move to reduce plastic straws in clubs is an ineffective method of reducing ocean pollution, albeit a very easy and virtuous thing for us to get behind. Plastic straws make up 0.03 % of the 8 million metric tons. The biggest plastic pollutant in the water? Discarded fishing nets. So although we can make a small personal difference by changing our habits. The biggest change will come from us as consumers. 

If we can change our demand for things, we will change the supply. It’ll take a while. But it’s worth doing. Let the companies boast about how good they are! And let us show them what we want by buying those things!

Thanks for reading our rants. See you out there in the green! xx

 

 

Check out Francobloggo’s I to IV here.

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FRANCOBLOGGO III: How much plastic do we use every day?

(This is Sean Bean’s second Francobloggo, read the first one here)

Now, I decided to collect all the plastic I accumulated through a single day (buying food, drinks, and products), to raise my own awareness of my waste footprint. I work as a builder/maintenance man when I’m not frollocking about playing music with Francobollo and other people, and as a result (juggling two full time jobs essentially) I have very little time. Cooking for me personally is a luxury and something I love doing when I can but the truth is I’m either on the road or on a worksite and am rarely at home with any downtime. So the only option is unfortunately to buy Tesco sandwiches and fast food when I’m out and about and in this super hot weather we’ve had I’ve probably bought more bottled waters etc than I have otherwise put together in about a year!

So after a normal day of work this is what I ended up with (left). These were just the items with plastic in them! I had about an equal amount in card and paper, which was a minor shock to even myself and i bought it! It’s so easy to neglect and we do it every day! So hey! We need to make more time for ourselves to prepare food and drinks for the day to cut down on a substantial amount of plastic waste (even though that can be harder than it sounds)!

Last but not least I am a major coffee fiend! I have a ritual of buying a chocolate croissant in the morning before work and have been a culprit of getting those non reusable and non recyclable cups (most of which have been commandeered by my girlfriend to be used as plant pots). But in light of embarking on our recent Plastic Diet we decided to try the reusable plastic cups; now here are my two cents on that.

When I went out on a stroll to find myself a reusable cup to take to get my coffee in the morning i realised that the alternatives for people on the same wage bracket i’m on (minimum wage) are plastic and in most cases virgin plastic, which we are trying to get away from right? And my options readily available were either spending £1 on a probably-virgin plastic cup from your standard big chain coffee shop or spending 8-15 pounds on a biodegradable cup or one made out of recycled plastics.

Now as a rather poor person, and especially a poor person in London, I see no alternative there; this has to change. I feel like these changes will only happen if they are made accessible to everyone in a wide scale way and it’s our collective responsibility to make sure that happens.

Get together shout from the rooftops, write your local MP, and above all write strongly worded letters to big corporations and share your thoughts/fears/experiences with them and highlight what the people want! Not what profit wants!

All the love from the least qualified person to speak about any of this in the world! xo

 

PSF note: Wanna know what options are there for reusable coffee cups? Check these out!

 

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FRANCOBLOGGO II: Plastic at the supermarket

Tjena! Sean Bean the drummer of Francobollo here, its now my turn to talk about the journey into a more plastic free lifestyle! Yay!

So starting out this month me and my girlfriend Aspen made a point of unwrapping any items in the supermarket that didn’t need it and leaving it there to highlight the fact that it’s not necessary and in a lot of cases unwanted. A sort of mini-protest to say ‘you guys deal with it’!

On our very first visit, here’s what happened; we did our normal shopping and on this particular visit it was my turn to buy toilet roll for the house (I live with 4 other people). My girlfriend is a major fan of monkey nuts so that was in there too, and when we got to the self-checkout we started unwrapping everything and leaving it in a basket on the side. The Swede in me was cringing at every rip as we have a tendency to feel very embarrassed when we leave something for someone else to deal with. Towards the end of our unpacking i started to feel a little bit better knowing it was for a good cause and I just needed to buck up and get on with it, after all this is our planet we are doing this for!

We brought a tote bag to carry everything in, so as to not accumulate yet another plastic bag, which would have inevitably ended up in some crevice in my room somewhere not to be seen again until the day we move out. Aspen went on to open the monkey nuts and pour them into the bag all over the toilet roll, and at that very moment i realised that my roommate is allergic to nuts!

So now we have a whole pack of bog roll in my room that only we can use in fear of killing my roommate with an allergic reaction…

In the frenzy of making the world a better place, keep in mind sometimes that the plastic that is around us has kept these anxious thoughts completely at bay and is a testament to the apathy we are falling into as a result! The more i think about it, the comforts of our time seem to inhibit our thinking about our surroundings and being aware of its big and small scale effects on it.

In short, it’s pretty hard to be aware and take action! We all need regular reminding until it’s a thing of the past! Next time we go grocery shopping I’ll be sure to bring a little nut basket to keep it all separate!

To be continued…

 

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FRANCOBLOGGO I: Who are Francobollo?

Good morning! Good Evening! Merry Christmas! Happy year 3000! Whenever you may read this message, hello to you. The benefit of writing a blog is the knowledge that this message will be online forever more. Something I do not consider when I tweet, facebook, Insta ‘, or below-the-line comment online. The fact that these words are inhabiting a small space somewhere in the corner of a server somewhere underground. Taking up more digital real estate…

From left to right: Simon Nilsson, Petter Grevelius, Sean Bean (drums), Sam Bailey

I know you can not guess where I am going with this, but I do not know where to go. Impressed? Great. We are Francobollo. A band of four people from Sweden and England who is going to spend a lot of money together. Right now you are reading the wordings of the bassist Sam Bailey (hello!), But you can hear from other members on the course of this month – singer Simon Nilsson (Hallå!), Guitarist Petter Grevelius (Sup!) And drummer Sean Bean (Tjena!) We have tasks about this blog, the Plastic Soup Foundation, to raise awareness of single-use plastic’s impact on the environment, and PSF’s #StartPlasticDiet campaign. If you have not seen it, we have just released our new music video, a collaboration with animator Samuel Lewis ( samuellewis.com.au ), to illustrate this.

Over the next month we are going to share our thoughts, feelings, failings, successes and ideas about trying to maintain a Plastic Diet, while being a musician’s wage. It’s all very good talking about avoiding plastic, but when you’ve got it, you can get tough. We are going to try though. We are fed up of the world that has been built around us, encouraging us to think hard about what we do everyday. Single use plastic is a good example of how we are shunning our own responsibilities, like room-ridden teens, and walking our way to being total dicks. And that is us included there. We are normal humans too. Capable of all the disposable attitudes to life. But we want to change!

Join us for the fun.

With love. Franco.