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Does the Rutte cabinet really want less plastic?

Amsterdam, 6 March 2019 – State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven (D66) of Infrastructure and Water Management has promised that in 2025 the Netherlands will use 20% less (packaging) plastic than in 2017. Agreements to that effect were made in the Plastic Pact with plastic producing and plastic using companies. However, real plastic producers such as Dow Chemical, Sabic or Borealis, did not sign the Plastic Pact, did not commit to any reduction.

If you want less plastic, you in the first place need to produce less plastic. You would therefore expect the Cabinet to discourage plastic production. The contrary is the case. Not only did they fail to succeed in convincing individual plastic producers to sign the Pact, behind the scenes the cabinet has even been making efforts to bring new plastic factories to the Netherlands

Late last year, the British chemical giant INEOS faced the choice of location for the construction of new plastic factories that use cheap shale gas from the United States as the raw material for pellets. The choice was between Botlek and Antwerp; the construction involved a 3 billion investment. The company eventually opted for Antwerp. Both Belgium and the Netherlands lobbied hard to get the new get plastic factories, according to research by the journalist collective Follow the Money.

The article quotes Adriaan Visser (D66), alderman for major projects in Rotterdam, who in the municipal meeting on 17 January informed the council about the ways used to convince INEOS to choose for Rotterdam: “I can honestly say that we have done everything in our power to achieve this. And we did not stand alone. The port authority, VNO-NCW, the cabinet including the Prime Minister, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency have also made serious efforts to bring the company to Rotterdam.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The cabinet has engaged in double‑speak, a cardinal sin in politics. We want clarity. If the cabinet promises us less plastic, it must first ensure that less plastic is produced, on Dutch territory to begin with. The fact that lobbying for more plastic goes on behind the scenes, nourishes the thought that the Plastic Pact is nothing more than a greenwash-operation for the stage.”

Photo: National Government

Also read: INEOS invests 3 billion euros in plastic plants in Antwerp 


The Clean Rivers project receives almost two million euro to make the Dutch river delta plastic-free

Amsterdam, February 18, 2019 – The Clean Rivers Project has procured a donation of € 1,950,000.00 from the National Postcode Lottery (NPCL NL). This brings their goal of making all Dutch river estuaries free of plastic, ever closer.

The Clean Rivers Project was founded in order to get some insight into the amount, and the origin of waste along our riverbanks. This makes it possible to tackle the waste problem at source. It’s the first time that research on this scale with regards to river pollution has been undertaken in The Netherlands using ‘citizen science’: volunteers collecting data for scientific research.

Martijn Krabbé came along on the 18thof February to personally hand over the cheque as Ambassador for the NPCL, right where the instigators IVN Natuureducatie, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee were busy with a river waste project along the River Waal. “Our dream of making the river banks and estuaries free of plastic by 2030 can now really come true. The nice thing about this particular project is that anyone and everyone can help out. By creating more awareness, that’s just what is happening too,” said Joline de Weerdt, Regional Manager of IVN.

Clean Rivers

Millions of sea mammals and birds become trapped, entangled in plastic every year. They all see it as food too and can end up dying with a stomach filled with plastic waste. The potential, consequential threat to human health is not very far off if the plastic enters the food chain. Lots of plastic streams into the sea via our rivers. This is why Plastic Soup Foundation, IVN Natuureducatie and Stichting De Noordzee decided to collaborate in 2017 and instigated the ‘Clean Rivers Project’.

From about 200 pathways along the rivers Maas and Waal, these organisations carry out their research with the help of trained volunteers, giving them insight into the various types of waste, the most frequently found items and the most polluted hot-spots. The data collected is used to approach businesses and manufacturers and have them address their responsibilities, as well as bring things into discussion with policy makers and increase awareness under consumers. Large scale clean-ups are also organised annually, which attract up to 4,000 volunteers.

Extra contribution

With this extra contribution from the National Postcode Lottery, the Clean Rivers Project can be substantially expanded. The number of Dutch rivers that can now be cleaned up and researched, immediately becomes exponentially larger. Hundreds more researchers will now be trained.

This donation was made possible by participants in the Postcode Lottery and took place on the eve of the Gala for Good Money (Goed Geld Gala). On the 4thof March, The National Postcode Lottery (NL) announces just how much they will be able to donate to various charities and causes for the good of humankind and nature, all thanks to participants. Fifty percent of donations made by participants in the NPCL is earmarked for these causes. The total contributed in 2018 was more than € 357.5M.

Read more about the Clean Rivers Project at www.schonerivieren.org.


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Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

Plastic Soup Foundation organizes a pellet count in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, 28 January 2019 – At the start of this month freighter MSC Zoe lost at least 292 containers, some of which were filled with pellets. Pellets, also called nurdles and no more than 5 millimeters big, are used to make plastic products. The beach of Schiermonnikoog was covered with millions of these plastic granules. Because they can have a huge ecological impact on the fragile nature of the mudflats, the University of Groningen is investigating where they ended up. Contrary to larger pieces of plastic, these pellets can barely be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the loss of the millions of pellets on the Wadden Sea wasn’t an exception. In October 2017 nurdles from two cargo ships entered the ocean near the South African harbor town of Durban, after which a massive amount washed ashore. Furthermore, a recent Danish report shows that an extraordinary number of pellets were found in the environment around Danish plastic factories – the royal warrant holders of Lego. In May 2018 around 450.000 pellets were found on just one beach in Scotland; twelve miles from the Ineos Polymers factory where they are produced. And in 2016 English consultant Eunomia calculated that up to 53 billion plastic pellets are lost and end up in the environment in the United Kingdom alone.

It is not surprising that pellet loss is considered to be one of the major causes of the plastic soup. Yet there is no national or international organization monitoring it. Because this has actually been a known problem for a long time, plastic manufacturers have voluntarily united in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). By its own account, this industrial initiative applies the best possible practices to prevent pellets from ending up in the ocean. But basically, the industry has free rein and is never fined or confronted. The past 25 years the OCS has also never had to publicly show their accountability. MacKerron, vice president of the American NGO As You Sow: “Operation Clean Sweep provides no transparency on the scope and nature of spills or efforts made to clean up. Given what we know about the alarming rates of plastic leakage into oceans, companies can no longer hide behind vague pledges of best practices. They need to provide prompt and detailed disclosure about specific actions taken to prevent spills, and when spills occur, information on spill size, and actions taken to clean up.”

As You Sow has called to account the American pellet manufacturers Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil and Philips 66 during shareholders’ meetings, and have demanded the creation of at least yearly reports that map the spills, describe which measures have been taken and how the spills were cleaned up.

It is extremely important to gather evidence, so we can enforce measures that lead to the industry taking care of transport without pellet loss. Where and in what concentrations are the pellets found on coastlines and shores? Everyone can simply help build this data with a smartphone, whether alone or in a group. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place between Friday 8 and Sunday 17 February.

With that in mind The Plastic Soup Foundation will organize various pellet counts in the Netherlands that week, at new and still secret hot spot locations in places such as Zeeland and Limburg. Join us and sign up by e-mailing michielp@plasticsoupfoundation.org. You will then receive more information on dates, times and locations.

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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


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.


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