Plastic in compost responsible for extra local pollution

In the garden, you expect to be surrounded by a clean, natural environment: in reality, plastic is often an unexpected guest in the ground these days.  In many local authorities, it’s been the practice for many years to offer the residents free compost in the spring. This fertilizer turns out to often contain relatively large amounts of plastic particles. Waste processors do their best to make compost from polluted organic waste, but are thwarted by market forces. Truly clean compost costs a lot more, and the local authorities normally choose the cheaper variant which, although it satisfies legal requirements, is still polluted.

The Dutch provincial media company NH nieuws has done comprehensive research in to this form of plastic pollution, and highlights different aspects of the problem in their article: https://www.nhnieuws.nl/nieuws/245470/gemeenten-geven-vervuilde-compost-gratis-weg-aan-inwoners. One thing that is immediately apparent is that the local authorities are well aware of the problem, but that the rules are inadequate and that the standards are too broad.   When this polluted compost is applied year after year to the same garden plot, the result is a dangerous accumulation of plastic particles per square metre.

The Plastic Soup Foundation believes that plastic does not belong in the environment, the ground or in compost. The government should take steps to implement a zero-plastic norm for plastic pollution in compost. In the long run, this will be the only effective way to counter this form of plastic leakage.


Also read: Plastic soup on land agricultural compost is polluted with plastic

Bol.com introduces plastic packaging and claims environmental benefit

Amsterdam, 29 April 2019  – In a press release on their website, Bol.com announced changes in its packaging policies. The large, Dutch, online retailer’s most important change is the decision to decrease the use of their signature blue and white cardboard boxes. Bol.com claims that avoiding double packaging (products that were already packed and then double-packed in Bol.com blue & white boxes) will save 3.5 million boxes this year alone. About 20% of the CO2 emission of this company is produced by the packing materials and their aim is to be a zero-emission online store in 2025. This leaves one question: what are they doing with plastic?    

Bol.com also introduces a plastic shipping bag, made of recycled materials to replace some of the cardboard boxes in future. This will no doubt lead to increased use of plastic. At the beginning of the year, Bol.com did not sign the Plastic Pact in which companies and organisations committed to decreasing their plastic use with 20% in 2025. Is this commitment the reason why Bol.com did not sign the pact? The online retailer wants to decrease its ecological footprint and equates that to CO2 reduction. However, it ignores the impact of single-use packages on the environment.  

Implementing a reusable system would show real ambition 

Less packaging is better. Less packaging, plastic, cardboard and stuffing materials mean less waste, which is clearly better for the environment. Replacing cardboard with plastic can reduce CO2 emissions but does not take other aspects of plastic use, such as the disposal of plastic, into account. Plastic Soup Foundation does not agree with replacing cardboard by plastic. Instead of introducing plastic shipping bags, Bol.com should keep using the cardboard boxes. However, if the choice for plastic is already made then, the containers should be part of a reusable system, so containers can be returned to the company to be re-used. This would comply with the new SUP directive of the European Commission, which states that single-use plastic (SUP) should be reduced; producers should take responsibility for their plastic packaging, even after use. And an infrastructure should be in place to stimulate reusing plastic packing materials. Bol.com is making changes but as far as plastic is concerned, in the wrong direction. 

Photo: www.businessinsider.nl 

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It’s raining microplastics, everywhere and every day

Amsterdam, April 17, 2019 – Sometimes the wind brings sand from the Sahara to the Netherlands. The sky can turn orange from it and, with light rain, everything can be covered with a layer of reddish dust. Researchers have turned their attention to microplastics in the air. These also appear to be settling out of the air and able to travel long distances. As a result, they end up everywhere, even in remote natural areas.

New study

In the mountains of the French Pyrenees, far from civilization, it was investigated how many microplastics fall out of the air onto the ground every day. Samples were taken over a five-month period, and measured both dry and wet (carried by raindrops) deposition. On average 249 plastic pieces were found per square meter per day, 73 pieces of film and 44 fibers. Calculations showed that the wind could transport these microplastics easily over a distance of 95 kilometers, and presumably over much longer distances. The article appeared in Nature Geoscience.

Two previous investigations

While quite a lot of research is being done into microplastics that find their way elsewhere via water, our knowledge about microplastics in the air is still very limited. In 2016, microfibre fallout was measured for the first time. In Paris and in a suburb of Paris, the microfibers settling out of the air every day were recorded. Between two and 355 microfibers per square meter per day were counted. Last year, Chinese researchers found that the daily fallout in the Chinese city of Dongguan was between 175 and 313 microplastics per square meter. Most of the microplastics there were synthetic microfibers.


Read also – Microfibers Fallout

Read also – How damaging is breathing in microplastics?

 

 

First copy of ‘Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution’ presented to Jacqueline Cramer

Amsterdam, 8 April 2019“Everyone should read this book from start to finish.” said former Minister of the Environment Jacqueline Cramer, also Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Plastic Soup Foundation when she received the first copy of Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution.

This book, published by Island Press (Washington DC), is now for sale worldwide. The Dutch Edition, an initiative of PSF in collaboration with publishing house LIAS, was published last year and has since been reprinted. The presentation took place in the Global Experience Centre of Smurfit Kappa at Schiphol Airport. The PSF Business Angels gathered at this occasion with the theme Changing the Future of Packaging.

In his speech author Michiel Roscam Abbing referred to the long history of his book. “It started in 2009 with the book Plastic Soup by Jesse Goosens, who had interviewed Jacqueline Cramer for her book. Cramer was one of the first to recognize the problem of plastic soup. As Minister of the Environment in the Netherlands she raised the plastic soup issue with UNEP, the leading global environmental authority of the United Nations, and with her fellow ministers in Europe. Maria Westerbos was the initiator of this book, but had not yet met Cramer in person. Not much later Maria Westerbos was to establish the Plastic Soup Foundation and invited Cramer to become Chairman of the Board. Already in those early days of the Plastic Soup Foundation the idea of writing a new book on the plastic soup circulated in our office. In April 2018, this book was finally launched: The Plastic Soup Atlas of the World.”

Maria Westerbos presented the first copy of the Atlas to EU Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella on Malta at a conference of the plastic industry. Commissioner Vella was pleased with the Atlas because it, he said, gives a lot of attention to solutions and action perspective. Later Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, also received a copy.

According to Roscam Abbing, these were very important and visible moments that aroused interest among international publishers to also publish translated editions. Today there we have the World Edition English. Later this month an Italian edition will be published, and in the course of this year a Japanese will follow. A reprint of the Dutch edition appeared in January 2019. Five euros of every Dutch Atlas sold go to the Plastic Soup Foundation.

Order the Atlas at Bol.com:

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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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Microplastic fibers found in amphipods in deepest point of the ocean

Amsterdam, 27 March 2019 – Animals living in the deepest place of the world ingested plastic. The seafloor of the Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines, lies almost eleven kilometres below the surface of the sea. Last year researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. And the concentration of plastic particles was the highest, with 335 particles of mainly single-use plastics per square kilometre, at a depth of six kilometres.

Shocking discovery

And now, there has been another shocking discovery. In the deeps of the Mariana Trench lives a species of amphipods (Lysianassoidea amphipod) and marine biologists of Newcastle University, who study marine life in the trenches of the Pacific Ocean, wondered if plastic would be present in these amphipods. The researchers sampled 90 amphipods from the MarianaTrench and five other oceanic trenches.

Photo: Newcastle University

Mainly synthetic fibers

The result is shocking: 72% of the amphipods contained at least one particle of plastic. In the MarianaTrench all the amphipods contained plastic. And 84% of the microplastic fibers originated from synthetic clothing while 16% originated from other microplastics. In the least contaminated trench, the New Hebrides Trench, still half of the sampled amphipods contained plastic. The largest fiber was a few millimetres long, purple, twisted in the shape of an eight, and found in an amphipod barely a few centimetres tall.

This Newcastle University study is the first time proof that even animals living in the deepest locations on Earth ingest microplastics.


Also read: Plastic found in the deepest part of the ocean

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Disappointing UNEA resolution on plastic soup: Shell and Unilever get their own way

Amsterdam, 20th March 2019 – The world has chosen not to combat the plastic soup with a reduction in plastics production or the introduction of a ban on single use plastics.

This is basically the disappointing result of the fourth UNEA conference in Nairobi, where the member states of the UN agreed a resolution on combatting the plastic soup. Several countries, led by the USA, blocked suggestions to combat the plastic soup internationally.

 Multiple resolutions discussed.

During the UNEA-4 Conference, concluded last Friday, the resolution “Addressing single-use plastic products pollution” was ratified. Member states are called upon therein to take measures to curtail and limit the ecological consequences of plastic waste. However, there is absolutely nothing mentioned in there about coordinated international discussion, nor any mandated obligatory reduction of (packaging) plastics. Several resolutions were discussed at the conference with the aim of stopping plastics pollution but the more ambitious ones didn’t even make the grade. Norway, Japan and Sri Lanka together proposed working towards a new international agreement with binding objectives. India even introduced a resolution at the very last minute aimed at banning single-use plastic.

The rejected resolutions were all in line with the processes already proposed by more than 90 environmental organisations, including The Plastic Soup Foundation which expounds upon how a new international convention on combatting the plastic soup should be manifested.

Read about that proposal here.

Opposition from the United States of America

The environmental organisations, collectively in Nairobi, accused the USA of blocking any ambitious resolutions, delaying discussions and modifying texts. The USA chose to defend the interests of their petrochemical industries who have invested more that 200 billion dollars in new plastics production. Shell for instance, is one of these companies that has invested billions in new plastics and profits from cheap shale oil and gas.

The environmental organisations issued a joint declaration to the press.

The Guardian quotes David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law as saying:

“The vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening.” Even after the ratification of a greatly modified resolution, the American delegation announced that they did not feel bound to it at all.

Plastics manufacturers are happy

The World Plastics Council, the forum uniting plastics manufacturers, welcomed the resolution in a press release. They postulate that the first priority must lie in improved collection of plastic waste, especially in developing countries with large populations. The resolution however, imposes not one obligation on manufacturers to produce less (packaging) plastic. Unilever, one of the biggest polluters in South East Asia, also aims more towards recycling (mini) packaging instead of a reduction in production.

The Plastic Soup Foundation’s MD, Maria Westerbos:

“This successful lobby from the industry means that the plastic soup will only get worse over the upcoming years and that countries with the worst pollution will be landed with the worst problems. It is unbelievably disappointing that profits are once again seen to be more important than a habitable planet for future generations.”

Photo: Art installation made from plastic pegs by Angelika Heckhausen


Do also read – Protest Greenpeace bij Unilever tegen wegwerplastic.

Do also read – Nieuw industrieel offensief: Alliance to end plastic waste.

Do also read – Wil het Kabinet-Rutte wel echt minder plastic?

 

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At least 24 million nurdles washed up on dutch beaches

Amsterdam, 14thMarch 2019 – A small 24 million ‘nurdles’ have been washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen (NL).  Cause? Containers falling overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe, early 2019. This has been established by researchers at State University Groningen (NL). The loss of nurdles initially appeared to be a one-off, but is in reality a structural problem.

Earlier this year, 350 containers fell overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe. Several containers held plastic nurdles, raw material for products made from plastic. These washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and also landed along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen. Nurdles are extremely difficult to clean up although in Schiermonnikoog (NL) they are attempting the job with a specially adapted ‘vacuum cleaner’.

They’re sure to keep washing ashore too. Researchers at State University Groningen (RUG-NL) have invented a clever way to map just where they can be found, with the use of volunteers and an interactive map at waddenplastic.nl .To enable this analysis, RUG researchers, along with the volunteers, map out quadrants along the flood line measuring 40x40cm and actually count all nurdles found in each section. This is repeated every ten metres, after which they enter the data on the website. Currently there have been three hundred quadrants counted, giving the baseline estimate of 24 million.

Recent evidence also indicates that containers falling overboard can definitely lead to veritable nurdle disasters. It has happened before in South Africa and in Hong Kong. However, we’re wondering how things stand with daily loss of nurdles and Shoreliner offers us insight there.

A quarter of a million nurdles are counted every two months.

The Shoreliner catches floating plastic waste along rivers and removes it. The office of Tauw Civil Engineers has developed this system for the Port of Rotterdam NV and the Directorate General of Public Works and Water Management (NL). It recently won an award as most sustainable project by the Port of Rotterdam.

The Shoreliner has been operating in the Lekhaven (NL) for two years already and is cleared out on alternate months. Apart from other floating plastic waste, approximately 250,000 nurdles are counted at every clear-out. This means around 3 million of them every year at this spot alone. The amount that reaches the sea via the Nieuwe Waterweg (NL) is reckoned at multiples of the amounts washing up from the containers lost by MSC Zoe.

No pacts have been made and nothing agreed about the loss of nurdles.

The nurdles collected in the Lekhaven originate at plastics manufactories situated upstream. These manufacturers are extremely shoddy in the use of their plastics, despite the sincere promises from the industry as a whole, around Operation Clean Sweep with regards to the prevention of loss of these nurdles.

The Plastic Pact was recently ratified. This contains the promise to reduce the amount of waste plastics in the environment by 20%, by the year 2025. Agreements about the loss of nurdles, however, are missing within this pact. Individual plastics manufacturers such as Dow Chemical, Sabic, or Brealis, failed to add their signatures to the agreement, although the trade organisation under which they fall and to which they are affiliated, The Federation of Dutch Rubber and Plastics Industries (NRK-NL), did sign. The question is, will the NRK actually tackle the problem of nurdle loss, or not.

Research collaboration

Together with the North Sea Society (SNZ-NL) and IVN (NL), we at The Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF-NL) are carrying out research around Clean Rivers which concerns the waste collected in the rivers and along the riverbanks of the River Maas and the River Waal. The nurdle scores high among items found in Dutch rivers. This research is about to be widely extended thanks to an important donation from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

MD of PSF, Marian Westerbos: “Until there is real and documented commitment within the industry and while this continues to be unsanctioned, nurdles will continue to stream into the North Sea at a massive rate. This is a disaster that’s happening every single day.”


Do also read: Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

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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

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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