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Endless varieties of wildlife consuming and defecating plastic

Amsterdam, 27 November 2018 – Dutch researchers determined in 2015 already that the number of marine species affected by plastic either through swallowing it, or becoming entangled in it, had doubled since 1997: from a registered total of 267 to 557. In 2018, National Geographic reported this number as being around the 700. These numbers are, however, no reflection on the actual number of (marine) creatures impeded in any way by plastic. It merely reports on the number of varieties that were scientifically researched.

Do fresh water fish in the Amazon also ingest plastic? Until recently, this was an unanswered question because no research had ever been done. This is no longer the case and a total of sixteen varieties of fish in the River Xingu (Brazil) have since been scientifically researched. Thirteen varieties were found to contain microplastics – that’s 80%. A total of 172 fish were dissected and 96 pieces of plastic were retrieved from the stomachs of 45 fish. The most frequently occurring type of plastic was polyethylene. You can read the article from the magazine Environmental Pollution here. Scientists are alarmed that plastic pollution turns out to be widespread in the Amazon basin.

The fact that three varieties of fish held no plastic is no real indication that these fish are free of all plastic. It could just be coincidence that those examples just happened not to contain anything. If more examples of these three particular varieties of fish were examined it could easily transpire that they too have plastics in their innards.

Other than stomach contents, faeces is also a good indicator for the presence of microplastics. It transpires that practically all species, whenever researched, contain plastic in their poop. Not only humans but South American Fur Seals in the wild (a Science Direct itemor seabirds (as reported in Science of the Total Environment).

It’s gradually approaching the stage when there is no longer any point in tallying the numbers of creatures affected by plastic, but we must find proper scientific answers to the following: Which of the world’s species can we reasonably assume are not in any way touched by plastic, do not become entangled in it, neither ingest nor defecate it? Because the answer will indubitably be: horrendously few.

Photo: microplastics found in Amazonian fish 


Do read:

From plastic soup to plastic poop
Plastizers in plastic slow down babys language development 

 

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Microplastics in insects in rivers South Wales

Amsterdam, 13 November 2018– Is plastic pollution causing microplastics to penetrate the food chains of freshwater ecosystems? A recent research answers with a yes. Half of the examined insects from rivers in South Wales turned out to carry microplastics that must have originated from the water or the soil they live in.

Immature mayflies and caddisflies from three rivers were examined for microplastics. The sampling areas were found upstream and downstream of five water purification plants. On all locations microplastics were found in the insects. Contrary to the expectation of the researchers that insects downstream would contain larger amounts of plastics than those upstream, no significant differences were detected between the locations.

Because the examined insects have different diets, the researchers could also investigate whether choice of food plays a role in the exposure to microplastics. This turned out not to be the case. However, the mayflies that primarily live in the water, did turn out to contain considerably less microplastics. This in contrast with the mayflies that search for similar food on the river bed. So, a preference for a certain habitat, water or soil, might provide an explanation for the different amounts of microplastics found.

The researchers express their concern about the spread of microplastics in food chains through insects. Especially fish, but also other animals – such as amphibians and predaceous insects – feed on mayflies and caddisflies. This mechanism was also brought to light in another recent research.


Also read: Mosquitoes transfer microplastics from water to land 

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Polluting drink multinationals lobby against fixed caps

Amsterdam, 18 October 2018 – Soft drink caps are one of the most common items found on beaches. The caps are made of a plastic that floats, while PET plastic bottles sink. Last May, the European Commission proposed a new directive to reduce the plastic soup. The plans are in part based on the items that are most commonly found on beaches. It is therefore only to be expected that the European Commission wants to make it mandatory that caps be attached to bottles. After all, this has been successful with the pull tags of drink cans. The vote on the new directive is due next Wednesday. In the meantime, the lobby machine of the soft drinks companies are working hard to reverse this step. According to an investigationpublished earlier this month into the most commonly found brands, the top three polluters are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé. These three companies, together with Danone, sent a lobby letter to the European Commission. In the leaked letter, as reported by De Standaard, they state that the intended measure will not lead to the desired result. Instead, they believe that a deposit or other collection system will enable at least 90% of all bottles, including caps, to be collected by 2025. In the meantime, should it appear in 2021 that this approach is not viable, fixed caps can still be made mandatory. The Independent also reported on the story.

“If this proposal is accepted we will start introducing the mentioned commitments immediately,” the four companies promise. This sounds like blackmail as article 9 of the European Union’s proposal is already to have a collection of 90% in 2025.

According to Recycling Netwerk, the soft drinks industry is refusing to take important action to reduce litter. Recycling Netwerk summarises the industry’s tactics, saying that the companies are trying to postpone new measures to sometime in the future to gain time in the hope that the next European Commission will no longer introduce the directive.

The multinationals emphasise that a deposit system would be effective in attaining the goals. This is ironic given that they are resisting introducing a deposit system in countries such as Belgium, France and Spain. The four multinationals further state that in the Netherlands and Germany in March next year, they will assess the percentage of caps collected through the deposit system. But what they forget is that in the Netherlands, the deposit is only levied on large bottles and not on the small bottles. This is why small bottles are found everywhere as litter. In a report, CE Delft believes that 50-100 million plastic bottles, including the caps, end up as litter.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation says that “The soft drinks industry’s lobby letter unintentionally shows how important it is to impose a deposit system on allplastic drinks bottles andto ensure that the caps are attached to the bottle. Its attempt to avoid the proposed mandatory cap system clearly shows that cost reduction is always much more important than looking after the environment.”


Also read:
Coca Cola largest plastic polluter
European Commission proposal to reduce single use plastic

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Cleanup system of Boyan Slat entered the Pacific Ocean 

Amsterdam, 14 September 2018 On Saturday the 8th of September the cleanup system of Boyan Slat entered the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean Cleanup starts the first major test phase with a tube of 600 meters in length and a screen of 3 meters deep. This tube will swipe all the plastic waste together. The waste will be taken to the mainland with a ship. If this test goes well, more of this kind of tubes will be build that will clean up half of the 80 million kilos of plastic in the Pacific Ocean within 5 years. Check out the news item below that RTL Nieuws broadcasted in which we were also interviewed (from 8: 00-10: 12):

The project had an enormous impact on the awareness of the plastic soup. We therefore wish Boyan a lot of success and are very curious about the results! We also want to encourage him to develop installations for rivers; 80% of all waste comes from the rivers and end up in the ocean.

Ultimately, the solution must be found in the prevention of all plastic waste that now ends up in the environment. Since our establishment in 2011, we have been trying to achieve this goal by tackling the sources of plastic soup, such as microplastics in cosmetics and synthetic fibers from clothing.

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Citizen Science: Motivated cleaning up of litter

Amsterdam, 23 August 2018– The banks of the Meuse and Waal rivers will be kept clean by volunteers for five years. This is part of a large-scale project researching litter set up in 2017 by the Plastic Soup Foundation in collaboration with IVN Natuureducatie and the North Sea Foundation (Stichting de Noordzee). Clean Rivers is a citizen science project in which citizens actively take part in scientific research. The litter is not only cleared up but analysed as well. The purpose is to gain an insight into the amount, types of products, composition and origins of the rubbish. This data will help implement a more effective strategy to tackle the problem of waste, including addressing the producers of the retrieved products and holding them responsible.

The “Citizen Science voor Schone Rivieren” (citizen science for clean rivers) report by the University of Leiden shows that citizen scientists are mostly concerned about the amount of litter and also want to contribute to solving the plastic soup problem by tackling pollution at source. The Leiden research aimed to find out what motivated the volunteers to join the project.

Local clubs also organise clean ups, but they sometimes do so because of a financial incentive from their municipalities. For them, the most important motivation is to boost the finances of their clubs. They are far less interested in tackling the plastic soup problem at source.

In a few weeks’ time, everyone in the Netherlands will have the opportunity to clean up litter while contributing to scientific research. It is World Cleanup Day on Saturday 15 September and there will be clean-up activities organised in more than 150 countries. Everyone that joins in helps map litter on the user-friendly Litterati app on their smartphones. The Plastic Soup Foundation and Nudge will organise the clean-up activities in the Netherlands. Individuals may start a local clean up activity and sign up here.


No more plastic waste to the ocean via Dutch rivers.

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Participants wanted for The Big Microplastic Survey

Amsterdam, 1 August 2018 – The hot weather draws many people to the beach and useful work is to be done there. Because what looks like clean sand, could in fact, be contaminated with microplastics. In collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, researcher David Jones, founder of Just One Ocean, has devised a way to map this pollution globally. Everyone can participate: individuals and organisations. The Big Micro Plastic Survey study is not limited to beaches; banks of rivers and lakes can also be explored.

The citizen science project consists of six simple steps:

  • Step 1. Register;
  • Step 2. Download the resource pack with the instructions;
  • Step 3. Consider where and when you are going to do research;
  • Step 4. Perform the research. Take a rope of four metres long. Use it to demarcate a square metre on the flood line. Take a piece of cardboard and cut a hole of 10 x 10 cm. Place this cardboard in five random places within the square metre. Spoon the 2 cm top layer from the hole. Put all the sand in a white bucket. Fill the bucket with (sea) water and stir briefly. Now the micro plastics will float to the surface. Pour the water through a kitchen strainer into a second white bucket. Repeat the examination on the flood line five times, each time with a distance of five metres between the demarcated squares. Determine the location with GPS or Google Maps;
  • Step 5. Analyse. Each time you get a mixture of microplastics and organic material that has also come afloat. Put it in a bowl and let it dry, then sort the micro-plastics on colour and kind by hand. Use the Micro Plastics Guide that distinguishes ten kinds of microplastics;
  • Step 6. Send the completed survey form, if possible with a photograph, to the researchers.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are proud to be a partner in this citizen science project. It is fantastic that in a fairly simple way everyone can contribute to research that is extremely important for scientific knowledge about the distribution and concentration of microplastics. We call on everyone to join in.”


Also read: Support the Plastic Soup Foundation with MBRC the Ocean 

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Morocco proves: ban on plastic bags is pointless without enforcement

Amsterdam, July 3, 2018 – Today is World Plastic Bag Free Day. On July 3rd, people around the world call for attention to the negative consequences of single-use plastic bags.

More and more countries are taking measures against the plastic bag. That seems like it’s good news. But laws themselves aren’t a guarantee that there’ll be fewer plastic bags being used. Measures are almost entirely useless if they’re not enforced, too. That appears to be the case in Morocco, which adopted a law two years ago banning plastic bags.

The Moroccan NGO Zero Zbel researched the effects of the law. In three large cities, 24 volunteers questioned a total of 235 business owners and consumers at markets. The most important results are:

  • 90% of consumers is aware of the law, and all questioned businessmen are. 60% sees the plastic bags as a serious threat to the environment.
  • Eight percent of people questioned says the use of plastic bags has increased, 41% thinks it’s remained at the same level.
  • The bags are still used at markets, where they’re almost always given away for free. The majority of consumers says they use between 5 and 15 bags per shopping trip.
  • As an explanation for the continued use of the bags, the people questioned explained that it’s because they’re free, while 60% of business owners stated that 80% of their customers expect to be given free plastic bags. Alternative bags are more expensive and less practical.

Zero Zbel recommends the government to deal with the producers of illegal bags. Another recommendation is to have the results of the law be evaluated by an independent organization every year.


Also read: India will abolish single use plastics

Op 9 maart gevonden flessen langs de Maas bij Maastricht
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Delaying the expansion of the deposit system ignores calls from society and is bad news for the environment, say Recycling Netwerk, Greenpeace Netherlands, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting Noordzee

Op 9 maart gevonden flessen langs de Maas bij Maastricht

Op 9 maart gevonden flessen langs de Maas bij Maastricht

Amsterdam, 10 March – The decision by the Dutch government to postpone the expansion of the deposit system is bad news for the environment. Furthermore the decision ignores calls from over 200 municipalities to expand the deposit system this year. Methods put forward by the sector to reduce litter are not making any difference, if anything they just get in the way of improving the deposit system. This is the response by environmental organizations Recycling Netwerk, Greenpeace Netherlands, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee to a letter from Deputy Infrastructure and Water Management Minister Stientje van Veldhoven on litter and the expansion of the deposit system.

“Postponing this measure for another three years means millions of extra bottles and caps will end up in the environment and contribute to plastic soup worldwide before the deposit system is possibly expanded sometime in the future. We find the government’s decision disappointing,” environmental organizations Recycling Netwerk, Greenpeace Netherlands, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee said in a joint statement on Saturday morning (10 March2018).

On Friday (9 March 2018), a survey by market researcher GfK revealed a large majority (80%) of Dutch citizens want to see the deposit system expanded to include all bottles and tins. 83% of Christian Democrat voters support an expansion of the system, and so do 79% of conservative liberal VVD voters. 85% of progressive liberal D66 voters, the deputy minister’s own party, want the deposit system to be expanded to include all plastic bottles and tins.

Kleine versus grote flessen die gevonden zijn langs de Maas bij Maastricht.

Kleine versus grote flessen die gevonden zijn langs de Maas bij Maastricht.

Communication campaigns by the packaging sector have been running for years, but have so far failed to clean up our streets and beaches. In 2002, the companies managed to shelf the expansion of the deposit system by promising to reduce the number of bottles and tins in litter by 80% within three years. This goal was never met, but the deposit system was still not expanded. Now 16 years later, history threatens to repeat itself: further delay could spell an end to proposals to expand the system.

We know that deposit systems work, as they have been shown to do so in Scandinavia and Germany. Over 200 municipalities have drawn the same conclusion and have joined the Statiegeldalliantie (Deposit System Alliance). The federations of farmers and fishermen are in favor of expanding the deposit system, as are 80% of people in the Netherlands. “It is indefensible that the government is delaying the implementation of a simple environmental measure which has the support of 80% of the population and over 200 municipalities,” say the environmental organizations.

Agricultural, fishery and municipal interests

The deputy minister’s letter fails to even mention tins. Taking half measures has huge consequences. It means there will be no solution to prevent tins ending up in the environment, nor for dairy and cattle farmers whose livestock are injured by razor sharp pieces of tin in their stomachs. The debate about the expansion of the deposit system to include tins, however, will not go away. Last week, the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO Nederland) joined the Statiegeldalliantie (Deposit System Alliance). Last week, VisNed also advocated expanding the deposit system for the sake of clean sea water.

Meanwhile municipalities are fighting a running battle, as clearing up litter costs them around 250 million euros in tax money every year. An expanded deposit system would reduce the volume of plastic bottles and tins in litter in the environment by 70 to 90 percent.  Over 200 Dutch municipalities became partners of the Statiegeldalliantie, asking for the deposit system to be expanded this year.

Lower House

The Rutte government promised to be the greenest government ever, but it seems that it is going to break its promise with regard to the circular economy and deposit system.

The environmental organizations hope that the Lower House will push for the immediate expansion of the deposit system on bottles and tins a debate on 15 March 2018. “It is vital that we and the government take further steps on a pathway that works, that pathway is via the deposit system. That is why The Hague, the government and the Lower House, must take swift and concrete steps on the pathway to expanding the deposits system to include all bottles and tins,” declare Recycling Netwerk, Greenpeace Netherlands, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee.


Also read: An underestimated threat: the pollution of land by microplastics.

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Bubble screen a technological breakthrough in battle against the plastic soup

Bird view The Great Bubble Barrier in the IJssel near Kampen.

Bird view The Great Bubble Barrier in the IJssel near Kampen.

Amsterdam, February 21, 2018 – The Great Bubble Barrier catches the plastic soup before it reaches the ocean.

A recent pilot in the IJssel river demonstrated the success of the method. The elegant invention creates air bubbles which form a barrier that traps plastic in rivers. Carried by the current, the plastic collides with the wall of bubbles. The plastic waste is thus captured and directed to the waterfront to be cleaned up. Last November, the part of the IJssel near Kampen was the first location to test the bubble screen outside the laboratory. The experiment determined that more than 80% of the test material was captured.

All over the world, rivers bring large quantities of plastic to the sea. Now there is a method to prevent that plastic from actually ending up in the oceans; a big dream for the founders of The Great Bubble Barrier. Francis Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens, and Saskia Studer searched not only for a way to capture plastic at the full breadth and depth of any river but also for a method that would allow for the passage of ships and fish to continue unhindered. They have succeeded on all accounts with flying colors.

The Great Bubble Barrier founders (left to right): Frances Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Struder

The Great Bubble Barrier founders (left to right): Frances Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Struder

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, remarked: “The importance of this new technology is not to be underestimated; we think the bubble screen can be used everywhere. The implementation is relatively cheap, so developing countries especially will be able to do a lot with it. This means that rivers that currently transport enourmous amounts of plastic to the sea every day will be reached. “

More information about the pilot and The Great Bubble Barrier:

Pilot in collaboration with Rijkswaterstaat, Deltares and BAM / van den Herik

In 2016, The Great Bubble Barrier won a competition organized by Rijkswaterstaat and Puur Water Natuurlijk: ‘The Plastic Free Rivers Makathon’, which aims to stop the plastic problem. In collaboration with the Self Supporting River System (SSRS) team from Rijkswaterstaat, Deltares and BAM / van den Herik, the effectiveness of the bubble screen was first extensively tested in the Deltares lab. The results were positive, which resulted in the placement of a Bubble Barrier of almost 200 meters near Kampen in the IJssel for a test period of three weeks starting in November 2017. The now published results show that The Great Bubble Barrier traps plastic under all observed conditions. The effects of wind and current were also measured in order to be able to adapt the settings of the bubble screen to the circumstances at any time. In every weather condition, more than 80% of the test material was captured.

Operation of The Great Bubble Barrier

Schematic of the Great Bubble Barrier

Schematic of the Great Bubble Barrier

The Great Bubble Barrier is a screen of air in the water. Both ships and fish can pass unhindered. Plastic soup, however, is blocked by the bubble screen and led to the side. The bubble screen is created by a tube at the bottom of the river through which air is pumped. The Great Bubble Barrier creates a bubble screen from the bottom of the river to the water surface. The resulting upward flow brings waste to the surface. By placing the screen at an angle, the natural flow is used to guide the plastic to the bank, making the waste easy to collect and remove.

Ready to clean rivers

The Great Bubble Barrier is ready to start catching plastic soup. Every river, canal or city moat with flow is, in principle, suitable the placement of a bubble screen. The Great Bubble Barrier provides an effective way to remove plastic from rivers and is also well-scalable, visually appealing and can last for ten years. Click here for more information.

Crowdfunding

To quickly install the system permanently, a crowdfunding campaign has been started. Several well-known organizations, including the Plastic Soup Foundation, support the campaign and offer fun rewards for donors, such as straws made from reed and trips through the canals of Amsterdam to fish for plastic. Whoever wants to support The Great Bubble Barrier with a donation can do so here.

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Plastic cotton buds are on the way out, but not yet in the Netherlands

Photo: City to SeaAmsterdam, February 19, 2018 — Cotton buds are found in large numbers on beaches and waterfronts around the world — including in the Netherlands. The leading cause of this phenomenon is the usage of toilets instead of rubbish bins for their disposal. Cotton swabs contribute to plastic pollution — this is why Italy became the first country in the world to ban them at the end of last year.

In the United Kingdom, the City to Sea Campaign also fights against the use of plastic sticks in ear swabs. Their campaign, Switch the Stick, has been very successful; at the end of 2016, all major retail chains in the UK declared that they would change their own label’s products. The cotton buds of in-house brands would be replaced with swabs containing paper rods by the end of 2017. Sainsbury’s, Boots, Morrisons, Wilko, and Lidl have fulfilled their promise. Aldi, Superdrug, and Asda have yet to do so.

In the Netherlands, all producers of cotton swabs know that there is a chance their product will end up in nature. Cotton swabs are the 9th most frequently found river waste in the Netherlands according to Rivierafval onderzoek 2017’ of Clean Rivers. Despite this, there is not a single chain-store brand that has stopped using plastic rods — not Albert Heijn, not Kruidvat, not Hema, Trekpleister, or Jumbo. Ecomonde, which uses the slogan “for a better world”, and Ekoplaza does use sticks made from paper. This provider proves to be an example to major competitors.

How long will it take for retailers to be informed by their customers about their environmental accountability, and adjust the products they offer as a result? As long as this does not happen, and the government also keeps quiet, these brands will continue to opt for the cheapest production method (plastic), even if there is an affordable alternative (paper).

Photo: City to Sea