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)


Sustainable Development Goals and fighting the plastic soup

Maria Westerbos’ opinion article on Impakter

Amsterdam/Washington D.C. – When the United Nations adopted the Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the fight against plastic pollution was not recognized as a separate SDG. Following “The Honolulu Commitment” of 2011 it was presented as a marine debris problem. Plastic pollution was not yet conceived to compromise freshwater environments, land or human health. SDG target 14.1, with its focus on on reduction of marine pollution of all kinds, was therefore often referred to when combatting international plastic pollution. In the meantime, however, our insights have increased significantly.

Framing the issue

The Plastic Soup Foundation, together with an international coalition of NGOs united in the Break Free From Plastic movement, argue that it is not SDG 14 that has to be taken as the starting point for strengthening international governance structures to fight plastic pollution. The world should instead (also) concentrate on SDG 3 (Health and well-being) and SDG 12 (Sustainable consumption and production) in order to prioritize real solutions that address the problem at its core.

This changed focus implies that the world has to address the pollution caused by plastic throughout its entire lifecycle, and that the initial focus should be to realize an absolute reduction in plastic production in order to avoid and prevent plastic from entering the environment and imposing health risks. The world must refute the solutions of the multinational firms that are promising 100% recyclable packaging, using recycled material to replace new plastic and to reduce the amount of plastic per product. These solutions, which are often followed by national governments when determining policy, simply allow business as usual, in other words: an unlimited growth of plastic, especially single use plastic packaging.

Not SDG 14, but SDG 3 and 12

Unfortunately, the fight against plastic pollution is not a separate SDG. However, the SDGs do offer a framework for action when putting emphasis on SDG 14 as well as SDG 3 and SDG 12. A new global convention should be drafted to prevent both growth in plastics pollution and harm to human health at all phases of the production cycle.

The full article by Maria Westerbos, director of Plastic Soup Foundation, published by Impakter SDG series on March 27, 2019.

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ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Amsterdam, 7 March 2019– Every day we inhale and ingest microplastics through the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Do these microplastics then find their way to our brains or into the amniotic fluid of our unborn children? Do the particles affect our intestinal bacteria and lung cells? Or affect our immunity system? Countless questions about the possible health risks of plastic have not yet been answered. But this may change this year.

ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research, made known today that it is subsidising fifteen short research projects into the most burning questions. In total, with additional contributions by the NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it will make an amount of 1.6 million euros available for this purpose.

As the communications partner, the Plastic Soup Foundation will publish the results on its new Plastic Health Platform.

Maria signs collaboration agreementmst met ZonMW

Scientific research into potentially dangerous consequences of microplastics and nanoplastics on the level of the cells in organs is still in the starting blocks. Because ever more alarm bells are ringing about the health risks of plastic, this new scientific research is more urgent than ever. With the ZonMw research, the Netherlands is positioning itself as one of the worldwide leaders.

Frank Pierik, Programme Manager ZonMw says “We are happy that the first projects in the Microplastics & Health programme can start. There is still very little known. This series of short projects will shed light and pave the way for more structured research into the health effects of microplastics.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, adds to this. “We are proud that we have reached this stage. While we do not know for certain, plastic, and in particular microplastics and nanoplastics, are very likely to pose a health risk. Over the last few years we have worked behind the scenes to create The Plastic Health Coalition to continually communicate and share the results of new research. We will make the findings of the ZonMw research known to the world and produce mini documentaries about them. These videos can eventually be viewed on our website and on the ZonMw’s website. Another part of The Plastic Health Coalition is the Plastic Test Lab. In addition to the ZonMw research, we will work with the Free University of Amsterdam to test if various products release microplastics and nanoplastics – just think about plastic teabags in hot water – and hormone disrupting additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants.”

Photo: Karl Taylor Photography

Also read: Important new report plastic health


Important new report: Plastic & Health

Amsterdam, 25 February 2019– The effects of plastic on human health has never been closely researched. To date, research has focused on specific points in the life cycle of plastic. Scientists and environmental organisations have now joined forces to examine the relationship between plastic and health for the entire life cycle of plastic. The Plastic & Health. The hidden costs of a plastic planet report clearly shows that each separate phase in the life cycle of plastic threatens public health and that these phases should not be viewed independently from each other. The phases in the chain were defined as:

  • mining and transport of fossil raw materials
  • refining and production
  • processing of the raw materials into pellets
  • consumer products and packaging
  • waste processing
  • plastic in the environment.

Countless illnesses are related to plastic. The report shows the severity of the accumulated health risks throughout the plastic chain and identifies the people that are most at risk. The authors conclude that plastic is posing a health risk worldwide. It must be countered on all fronts. Their recommendations include:

  • centralising the entire plastic chain
  • complete reduction in the production and use of plastic
  • complete transparency of the chemicals used by industry
  • reduction in exposure to toxic substances, including changing national and international regulations.

The report was produced on the initiative of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). Read the summary here.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation says “How much of a threat plastic poses to our health is being asked more frequently. This report comes at the right time and no one can avoid it. We will definitely draw on its findings in our own health campaign and coalition.”

Also read: Do not reuse supermarket water bottles

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Scientific research into health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?



Start of scientific research into the health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

Nieuwspoort, 22 March 2019 – Today, ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research and healthcare innovation, will launch fifteen unique research projects into the effects of micro- and nanoplastics on our health. This is the first scientific program in the world on this subject. A total of 1.6 million euros is being invested in the research projects.

Professor Dick Vethaak of Deltares, involved in four of the fifteen research projects, explains: “Microplastics spread easily via water and wind, resulting in a worldwide problem; they are present everywhere in our environment like a kind of grey mist.
We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles via our food, drink or through breathing. What this means for our health, however, cannot yet be properly estimated. There are strong indications of possible health risks, but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.”

Vethaak continues: “I am therefore delighted with this initiative from ZonMw and the involvement of the Plastic Soup Foundation. This is an initial exploratory study in which experts from various disciplines and sectors will work together. In particular, the collaboration between environmental scientists and medical specialists will be strong and unique. The Netherlands is taking the lead worldwide. I therefore have high expectations!”

The projects, which run for one year, address important questions such as:

  • How can microplastics enter our bodies?
  • What role does size, shape and composition play in this?
  • Could plastic in the environment be a source of diseases and infections since certain bacteria seem to thrive on plastic?
  • Can our immune system cope with plastic, or are we more likely to suffer inflammation and infections because of it?
  • How deep does microplastic penetrate into our bodies? Does it affect our brains? Is it harmful to unborn children?

Dr. Heather Leslie of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and involved in three of the projects, says: “If plastic particles can lead to chronic inflammation, that could mean the first step towards a whole series of chronic diseases. That is why we urgently need to investigate how many plastic particles from our consumer society penetrate the human body.”

The first interim results will be presented on 3 October, during a Plastic & Health conference in Amsterdam.

Just the beginning

ZonMw emphasises that the funding of these fifteen projects is only the beginning. One year is not long enough to obtain all the answers. Henk Smid, director of ZonMw, sees great potential in these studies and so also hopes that further long-term investigations will be possible. “The Netherlands has a leading position worldwide in scientific research into microplastics and this should be further expanded as quickly as possible.”

Plastic Health Coalition

Communication on the various pilot projects and possible (interim) results will be done by The Plastic Health Coalition – an initiative of the Plastic Soup Foundation. Working together in this coalition are various national and international environmental and research organisations which are concerned about or concerned with the effects of (micro) plastic on our health.

Plastic Test Lab

In addition to the 15 research projects, the first results of the Plastic Test Lab are also being presented today, a collaboration between the Plastic Soup Foundation and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We have had three cosmetics products tested for the presence of plastic particles and the results are alarming. The absolute disillusion is the anti-wrinkle day cream from Olaz. In one 50 ml jar the VU found no less than 1.5 million plastic particles. Every time I use this product, I therefore close the wrinkles on my face with 90,000 particles. In addition, HEMA lipstick No.06 is made of plastic, and so is the Essie glitter nail polish from L’Oréal.”

Westerbos continues: “Tests such as these fit seamlessly with the fifteen research projects of ZonMw. This gives us more insight into how microplastics can enter our body unimpeded and unintentionally.”

More information

Toxic Soup: dioxins in plastic toys
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Toxic Soup: dioxins in plastic toys

Amsterdam, 10 December 2018– For some years now we have been warned that persistent organic toxins (POPs) are present in toys made from recycled plastic. Last year, the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) examined 95 Rubik’s cubes and 16 other items, such as combs and toys, from 26 countries. 90% of the examined cubes contained toxic flame retardants from casings of discarded electronic devices.

Last month, the results of a new study were published entitled Toxic Soup, Dioxins in Plastic Toys; this time nine items were examined, eight toys and one hair-slide. For the first time brominated dioxins were found in these items. All products were probably made of plastic from electronic waste containing brominated flame retardants. Brominated dioxins are hormone disrupting substances that affect. among others, the nervous system and the endocrine system and are carcinogenic. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Peter Behnisch, co-author and attached to BioDetection Systems (BSD) in Amsterdam: “We applied a biotechnological measuring method with specially grown cells that respond to dioxins. We found a surprisingly high toxic content in products made from recycled plastic. As far as we know this is the first public study that demonstrates the presence of brominated dioxins in toys for children.”

Governments aim to close the plastic chain, which involves not incinerating plastic waste, but reusing it to manufacture new products. As that chain is more closed, the risk of higher concentrations of unwanted harmful substances in new products increases. The use of harmful flame retardants is banned in the European Union, but there is no control on products imported from outside the European Union that are made from recycled plastic. The rules are less strict in other countries.

The core message of the researchers: much more stringent measures are needed to prevent toxins returning in consumer goods such as toys through recycling. Provisions of the Stockholm Convention and the Basel Convention in particular must be strengthened.

Read the summary of the study and which measures are proposed.

Also read – Nationaal plan hormoonverstorende stoffen in een circulaire economie

Also read –Toxic chemicals in toys


From plastic soup to plastic poop

Amsterdam, 1 November 2018 – The knowledge that microplastics are present in every aspect of our lives has almost become common knowledge. Microplastics have been discovered everywhere, in water, air and soil and in fish and seafood, honey, salt and beer. With the widespread presence of microplastics, it is not surprising that they are also present in human faeces.

On the 23rd of October, Austrian researchers presented their findings during a congress in Vienna. They discovered, on average, twenty pieces of plastic per ten grams of faeces and they found nine different types of plastic in total, in the stool samples. The faeces of the eight participants, all from different countries, were sampled. All stool samples contained microplastics. The most frequently discovered plastics were polypropene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET); plastics commonly used in packaging.

Pieces of microplastics, with a size between 50 and 500 micrometre, were excreted in the human faeces, but it is still unclear if even smaller pieces remain in the human body. The smallest pieces microplastics can cross the wall of the gastrointestinal tract, enter the blood stream or tissues and cause an inflammatory reaction. How exactly the plastics entered the digestive tract of the subjects was not part of the research. However, all the subjects had eaten food that had been packed in plastic. Furthermore, drinks containing microplastics could also be a possible source.

An interview with Jeroen Dagevos of the Plastic Soup Foundation is available on the site of Talk Radio. Maria Westerbos, director van de Plastic Soup Foundation: “For sometime, it has been suspected that plastics could be present in human faeces. But main issue has to be, what the effect of microplastics is on the human body. It is therefore extremely urgent that, firstly, the research in the health effects continues and, secondly, as a precaution the use of plastics is reduced.”

Also read: How damaging is breathing in microplastics