Patagonia

Make producers responsible for water pollution caused by microplastics

Amsterdam, 22 January 2020 – Billions of euros are needed to remove microplastics and micropollutants from water. Will these costs soon be passed on to the consumer? European water companies are arguing that EU regulations should be applied more rigorously, that polluting producers should be held responsible and should bear the costs.

‘Consumers should not be presented with the bill, because they are not to blame for the pollution. In order to keep clean water affordable for all, the costs should be allocated to the responsible companies through extended producer responsibility’. This is the main conclusion of the consulting firm Deloitte to the EurEau, the European Federation of national umbrella organizations in the water and wastewater sector. The advice issued this month is based on two principles: the precautionary principle and the principle that the polluter pays.

Precautionary principle

Plastic products that contribute to pollution are not yet widely used. There is insufficient control over what may and may not be sold. As a result, people and all other living organisms are constantly exposed to undesirable things. Therefore, according to Deloitte, rapid and corrective action is needed, and this can be done on the basis of the precautionary principle. This principle states that government intervention is justified in the event of (imminent) irreversible environmental damage. In order to prevent our waters from becoming further polluted, Deloitte considers tackling pollution at source to be essential.

Polluter pays principle

The polluter pays principle must be applied through extended producer responsibility. The legal basis for this is there. The polluter pays principle is included in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, art. 191.2), as well as in the Water Framework Directive. The problem is that this principle is not (yet) being applied in practice.

For example, synthetic textiles

Wastewater treatment plants have to deal with billions and billions of microfibres that come from the machine washing of synthetic textiles. In order to prevent this fiber loss, an approach at the source is advised. According to the report, what should we think about? There is currently no obligation to provide information on clothing labels about potentially harmful substances or the release of microplastics. An obligation for producers to provide information could be introduced here. Extended producer responsibility could also take shape through the compulsory collection of discarded clothing. Or synthetic garments could be made more expensive compared to garments made of natural fibers to finance the installation of filters that capture microfibers in washing machines.

Read here the Deloitte report Study on the feasibility of applying extended producer responsibility to micropollutants and microplastics emitted in the aquatic environment from products during their life cycle.

Read also – Plastic microfibers contaminate tap water across the world

Plastic Soup Foundation takes legal action against structural plastic pollution

AMSTERDAM, January 16, 2020 – The estimated 24 million plastic granules which washed ashore on the Dutch coast as a result of MSC Zoe’s cargo spillage are a fraction of the unimaginable quantities of plastic pellets that are “spilled” into the environment by the plastics industry on a daily basis. Every year, more than 8 trillion of these microplastics – 23 billion granules a day – end up in the environment within the European Union.

The Plastic Soup Foundation is very concerned about the consequences of these plastic pellet leaks for people, animals, and the environment. Maria Westerbos, the director of the Plastic Soup Foundation stipulates that “if you want to come to terms with the number of spilled granules in Europe, you have to convert the amount to how much is lost per second. You’re talking about more than 265,000 pellets per second. That’s a heavy hailstorm of plastic!”

Heavily polluted locations in Rotterdam, Limburg, and Antwerp

Michiel Princen and Robert Möhring, researchers at the Plastic Soup Foundation, visited the factories of major international plastic producers at the Chemelot industrial estate in South Limburg and in the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. Producers such as Sabic, Ineos, BASF, Borealis, Covestro, and Ducor Petrochemicals are located in these areas. The port of Antwerp is the largest hub of plastic production in Europe. The enormous amounts of freshly produced plastic granules found by the researchers were recorded, and samples were taken as evidence. According to Princen, over the course of the investigation “[they] walked on what seemed to be carpets made of plastic pellets several times”.

The researchers concluded that the pollution caused by plastic producers in The Netherlands and in Flanders during the production process is completely out of control. “The voluntary code of conduct within the plastics industry, Ocean Clean Sweep, is free from obligation and is by no means sufficient to solve this problem”, says Princen. “The large-scale and structural nature of the pollution indicates that supervision and effective enforcement have been lacking for a long time. Existing environmental laws are insufficiently applied to tackle and prevent the leakage of plastic granules into the environment”.

Request for enforcement

This week, the Plastic Soup Foundation is the first organization in Europe to take legal steps in order to stop plastic pellet pollution. Via environmental lawyers Rogier Hörchner and Faton Bajrami, an enforcement request has been submitted to DCMR, the joint environmental department of the province of South Holland and fifteen municipalities in the Rijnmond region. One of the purposes of the request is to force the Rotterdam plastic producer Ducor Petrochemicals to clean up and keep the surroundings of the company premises clean. There are tens of millions of plastic pellets on banks in the immediate vicinity of Ducor Petrochemicals.

Because approximately half of the plastic produced does not float in water, the enforcement request has also asked that the river silt in the port of Rotterdam be investigated for plastic pollution.

“This is only the first in a series of forthcoming enforcement requests. We will do this more often, and force the government to do its job, through the courts if necessary”, says Westerbos. “But we’ll start with Rotterdam, the location closest to our own North Sea”.

Ducor and DCMR have been aware of the plastic leakage for some time. Nothing has been cleaned up so far, and even at the company gates, pellet pollution is abundant.

A silent disaster

The consequences of the pollution are not limited to the production sites. Via through roads, the sewage system, and rivers, the plastic granules spread like an oil slick throughout the seas and oceans, where cleaning them up becomes impossible. “Around the world, millions of these pellets wash ashore on banks and beaches. That is the silent disaster that is going on”, says Westerbos. Birds and sea creatures that see these pellets as foods sustain internal injuries, grow slower, and even starve to death because their stomachs are full of plastic. Plastic pellets have also been shown to attract chemicals, making them a poisonous pill for the animals that eat them. Over time, the granules fragment into even smaller microplastics and end up in our drinking water, our food, and the air we breathe; all with possible consequences for human health.

Plastic in Natura 2000 areas

Early research as part of the Schone Rivieren-project (the Clean Rivers project), in which the Plastic Soup Foundation participates, demonstrated that plastic granules were found at almost half of the 200 measured locations along the Maas and Waal rivers. Additional research shows that the banks of the Westerschelde estuary and the Grensmaas, both protected Natura 2000 areas, are dotted with thousands of plastic granules per square meter. In Zeeland, traces of the many plastic producers based in the port of Antwerp have been found everywhere on the banks of the Westerschelde estuary.

Westerbos calls on the European Commission to “really start protecting these natural areas in accordance with the European Habitat Directive. Our confidence in the industry’s ability to resolve this issue itself is now definitely over. We need for the government to come up with clear rules and stringent consequences”.

US plastics industry condemned

In the United States, too, organisations such as the Plastic Soup Foundation and private individuals have pursued legal action and have been successful. In 2019, a plastic manufacturer and a major distributor were sued for large-scale contamination caused by plastic granules: Formosa Plastics in Texas and Frontier Logistics in South Carolina.

In Texas, it was Diane Wilson, a retired shrimp boat captain, saw her environment become increasingly polluted with plastic pellets and collected structural evidence of this fact. She took her case to court and was proven right. In the judgment, Formosa Plastics was referred to as a “serial offender”. The manufacturer agreed to a fifty-million-dollar settlement and start to repair the damage of years of illegally dumping billions of plastic granules into Lavaca Bay and other waterways.

The company has additionally made a so-called “zero-discharge” promise: it will not allow any nurdles from the production process to leak into the environment in the future and will clean up any pollution caused.

The Plastic Soup Foundation hopes for similar results in The Netherlands and the rest of Europe and is working together with Break Free From Plastic and The Great Nurdle Hunt.


Clarification

The plastic granules, also referred to as nurdles, are pieces of plastic granulate which are a semi-finished product used in the manufacture of all kinds of plastic products, from toothbrushes to soda bottles. The granules are cheap — that’s one reason why the plastics industry is so careless about their transport and transshipment. In addition, individual granules are small and light: production processes, therefore, must be airtight. The only approach is a 100% comprehensive source approach.

A report from the trade association Plastics Europe and the port of Antwerp provides a telling reflection of the spilled number of pellets. The report shows that over the course of 2018, the port authority has cleaned up no less than 3.3 tons of plastic granules at just five different hotspots. With 50,000 grains going into a kilo, that means 165 million grains were cleared in those five hotspots alone — seven times the amount washed ashore from the MSC Zoe.

More information

More information about the locations investigated and images of the pollution found can be viewed in the presentation below.

London has highest measured concentration of microplastics in the air

Amsterdam, 10 January 2020 – Nowhere have so many microplastics in the air been measured as in London. The vast majority of these microplastics (92%) are fibres from synthetic clothing and floor coverings. Airborne microplastics are part of fine dust. Inhalation of fine dust can lead to all sorts of health complaints.

For a month, microplastics descended from the air twice a week on the roof of a nine-story building. Each individual sample contained more microplastics than was measured in Paris and the Chinese city of Dongguan. London itself is probably the source of the microplastics with fanning out effects on the wider environment, but it is difficult to indicate exactly where the tiny fibres come from. This study appeared in the scientific journal ‘Environment International’ at the end of last year.

Microfibres

Microplastics are created by the fragmentation of plastic. The high percentage of fibres measured in London is remarkable. These microfibres are released when synthetic textiles and carpets wear out or are washed. Twenty times as many microplastics of the same size were measured in London as in a remote location in the Pyrenees. Furthermore, the researchers found that weather conditions have little influence on the number of microplastics that have descended, while a study on microplastics fallout in Paris seemed to indicate a connection with rainy weather.

Share of microplastics in fine dust

A high concentration of dust leads to all sorts of health complaints. The study notes that worldwide initiatives are therefore being taken to reduce particulate matter originating from traffic or the burning of wood. However, there are hardly any initiatives aimed at reducing microplastics in the air.

As a result of the annual growth in the use of plastics and synthetic textiles, in particular, the composition of the fine dust will change; the proportion of microplastics will increase. The researchers advocate more basic research into the presence of microplastics in the air and the exposure of people. This knowledge is indispensable in order to better understand the possible role of microplastics in relation to health problems associated with particulate matter. For example, watch the presentation by Fransien van Dijk during the Plastic Health Summit last October.

The research in London was led by Dr. Stephanie Wright of King’s College. She was also a speaker at the Plastic Health Summit. Wright: ‘An important next step in predicting risk is to estimate human exposure to airborne microplastics’.

Read also – Are we getting sick of plastic? Strong decrease in growth of airways

Read also – It rains microplastics, everywhere and every day

Read also – Fallout of plastic microfibres

Burning plastic makes mega-fires even more toxic

Amsterdam, 07 January 2020 – The health risks of mega-fires such as those in Australia are worsened by the toxins released from burning plastic. The harmful particles in the air are barely avoidable for residents, even those who stay indoors, as the fires create plumes of smoke and smog that cover the cities.

Burning organic material such as wood leads to an increased concentration of fine dust in the air. Deteriorated air quality due to fires is regularly in the news. Last year, for example, Groningen air was five times worse due to German Easter fires. In India every year it is the farmers who burn down their fields after the rice harvest. This makes New Delhi one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Houses full of plastic

When heat, drought, strong winds and lack of manpower and equipment make fires unstoppable, as is now the case in Australia, not only forests but also countless houses go up in flames. Those houses are full of plastic: mattresses, furniture, carpeting, insulation material, electronics and a whole range of utensils. The gases and substances of burning plastic are toxic and carcinogenic. The fire brigade strongly advises: stay out of the smoke. But sometimes that advice cannot be followed. The mega-fires have long since ceased to be incidents. From Siberia to the Amazon, forests are on fire every year.

Ten cigarettes a day

The higher the concentration of smoke, the greater the chance of harmful effects such as burning eyes and irritated respiratory tract. The Australian air quality assessment service compares inhalation of air to the daily smoking of ten cigarettes compared to half a cigarette under normal conditions. The air of Sydney is currently unhealthier than that of New Delhi!

Photo: Air pollution in Sydney, pedestrian.tv

Read also – Are we getting sick from burnt plastic?

Groundbreaking ruling on rubber artificial turf pellets

Amsterdam, 22 December 2019 – Managers of sports fields are responsible for the rubber granulate found outside the artificial turf fields. This groundbreaking ruling by the District Court in Rotterdam may restrict the application of rubber granules on the artificial turf at home and abroad because it is practically impossible to prevent them from ending up outside the pitches. The public prosecutor stated that more criminal cases will follow.

Discarded car tires end up as rubber grains on artificial turf fields. These grains do not all remain on the fields and end up in the surface water via drainage. Assuming 1,800 artificial turf sports pitches in the Netherlands, 720,000 kilos end up in the environment every year, as much as 400 kilos per sports pitch. These ‘escaped’ grains are refilled. Heavy metals and chemicals end up in the soil as a result of leaching. Metals such as zinc and cobalt are harmful to soil life. The grains also break down into microplastics.

Corridor to the right pays off

Recycling Network Benelux filed a declaration in 2017 because heavy metals present in the rubber granulate are leaking into the environment. In particular, the standards for zinc are or will be exceeded over time. The complaint about large-scale environmental violations with car tire waste led to the criminal case against Sportaal, the sports company of the municipality of Enschede. The court ruled that there was a violation of article 13 of the Soil Protection Act and imposed a fine of 10,000 Euro. Read a summary of the hearing here.

Duty of care cannot be complied with

Sportaal had not fulfilled its duty of care to prevent soil pollution. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) previously advised taking measures to prevent the spreading of the granules. Recently, the Branchevereniging Sport en Cultuurtechniek (BSNC) published a new duty of care document with recommendations for measures to be taken by managers of sports fields. If no measures are taken, BSNC fears a ban on rubber granules.

In practice, however, it turns out to be virtually impossible to prevent the grains from spreading outside the fields. The main cause is that athletes walk the pellets out of the field. According to reports in the NRC, there is also hardly any monitoring of the measures taken; there is no enforcement of the duty of care.

The judgment sets a precedent

During the judicial investigation, grains were found up to fifteen meters from the fields and police inspectors saw that Sportaal had not taken any measures to prevent them from spreading. The blending of rubber granules with the soil was found. The judge ruled that the duty to prevent soil pollution had not been complied with. This sets an interesting precedent because the problem also occurs elsewhere. If, for example, polyflakes in horseboxes or plastic nurdles from the plastics industry will also be assessed in a similar manner, this will be of great benefit to the environment.

Photo: recyclingnetwork.org

Environment minister in discussion with fireworks industry on plastic

Amsterdam, 16 December 2019 – Stientje van Veldhoven, Minister of the Environment and Housing, talks with the fireworks industry to reduce plastic in fireworks. Pieces of plastic from fireworks are found everywhere. After the Hema, Albert Heijn also stops selling fireballs, which can be lit all year round.

The minister responds to a motion by Member of Parliament Suzanne Kröger (GroenLinks). In it, the government is asked to investigate, together with the fireworks industry, how the use of plastic in fireworks can be prevented. After fireworks with plastic have been set off, the plastic ends up irrevocably on the street. In its motion, Kröger points out that the sale of fireworks with plastic is not in accordance with the implementation of the so-called SUP Directive of the European Union.

Hema removes crackling balls from the shelves

Knetterballs can be fired all year round. Remains of this children’s firework are immediately recognizable: brightly colored or black semi-circular caps made of hard plastic. Hema removes them from the shelves after the Plastic Soup Surfer (Merijn Tinga) and the Zwerfinator (Dirk Groot) have had a conversation with the management. According to the Hema, stopping the sale fits in with the policy not to sell plastic for single-use anymore. Lidl and Aldi are taking similar steps. Albert Heijn promised Tinga and Groot on Friday 13 December to take the crackling balls off the shelves with immediate effect.

In the Netherlands, all supermarket chains signed the Plastic Pact at the beginning of 2019 and promised to reduce the use of plastic, but producers of fireworks are not a party to this agreement.

Nevertheless, to the court

In order to increase the pressure on fireworks sellers, Tinga and Groot are not waiting for the outcome of consultation between the government and the fireworks industry. They will go to court early next year to enforce a ban on fireworks with plastic. A group of stray waste disposal companies has been photographing the remains for months now. In the campaign Operation crackling ball #knetterball, the Plastic Soup Surfer calls on everyone to send pictures and he has already received more than 25,000 pictures. All those photos serve as a piece of evidence in the announced trial.

Photo: Zwerfinator

Free compost full of microplastics

Amsterdam, 14 December 2019 – There are 4000 microplastics in one kilo of compost. Wageningen University has been commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation and NH Nieuws to research compost that is provided free of charge by municipalities in Noord-Holland. Members of Parliament were shocked by the results and demanded clarity.

Members of parliament from PvdA, GroenLinks, and D66 are wondering whether compost can still be used safely and have announced parliamentary questions, according to NH Nieuws. Gijs van Dijk (PvdA) wants the Minister to take measures quickly: ‘The compost will again be provided by municipalities in the spring. The Minister must clarify before then whether or not municipalities should do so. Environment minister Veldhoven wants to wait for research from the RIVM. However, it is not clear whether RIVM is already investigating the effects of microplastics in compost.

Alarming research results

In Wageningen, a bin containing four kilos of compost from the Purmerend waste processor HVC was examined for the presence of microplastics by Violette Geissen, Professor Soil Degradation & Land Management. First, the sample was sieved to two millimeters, giving it the quality of certified compost A. After that, some 4000 microplastics per kilo were counted. Some of these turned out to be bioplastics, which were not broken down during the industrial composting process.

Existing standards insufficient

You can buy compost with a quality mark (Compost with quality labels A, B or C). That compost may contain a maximum of 2 grams of plastic per kilo. That is the weight of five sandwich bags. The legal norm is a maximum of 5 grams of plastic per kilo (10 sandwich bags). Moreover, this standard does not take into account pieces of plastic of fewer than 2 millimeters. In terms of weight, they do not even count. These are the smallest pieces that are invisible to the consumer and most harmful to the environment. So you get compost for free or you buy it, but you can never see for yourself to what extent it is contaminated with microplastics.

Soil alien material

Plastic penetrates more and more into all types of soil. It is an alien material. A year ago, the standards of the Soil Quality Regulation were tightened up. Since then, only ‘sporadically’ alien to the soil other than stone and wood may occur in dredging spoil. Plastic and polystyrene foam must be removed from the soil and dredged material before they can be used. However, existing microplastics cannot be removed.

Harmen Spek, manager of Innovations & Solutions at the Plastic Soup Foundation: “There is no standard for microplastics in compost, even though those small pieces are the most problematic. We need a stricter standard as soon as possible.”

Read more – Plastic in compost responsible for extra local pollution

Read more – Plastics soup on land: agricultural compost is polluted with plastic

Japanese edition of the Plastic Soup Atlas of the World

Amsterdam, 13 December 2019 – The Japanese edition of the Plastic Soup Atlas of the World was published by the Tokyo-based publisher Poplar Publishing. This special edition has an additional chapter on plastic pollution in Japan.

With the first edition of 7000 copies, Polar Publishing expects a broad distribution in Japan. A country with more than 125 million inhabitants. The publisher focuses mainly on libraries and schools. The Japanese Plastic Soup Atlas can be ordered online (click on the green button).

Earlier this year in Washington DC the English world edition was published under the title ‘Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution. And in Italy, a separate edition was published this year, which, like the Japanese, contains an extra chapter about the plastic soup in that country. With all these international editions, the Plastic Soup Atlas of the World (2018), which was realised by publisher LIAS in collaboration with the Plastic Soup Foundation, has received worldwide attention.

Libraries and schools

Liesbeth de Vries of LIAS publisher, who sold the rights to Poplar Publishing: ‘There is worldwide interest in this book. The fact that the Japanese edition is primarily intended for libraries and schools does not surprise me: the book deals with many themes, such as the causes, consequences of the plastic soup and solutions, and thus provides a good overview of the problems. The second edition of the Dutch edition, which came on the market last January, is also being ordered from us by schools and libraries’. LIAS is in contact with publishers in other Asian countries and hopes that there will soon also be a Korean or Chinese variant.

Read more – Presentation of the first copy to Jacqueline Cramer

Read more – Plastic Soup Atlas of the World: reprint and international editions

Order the Dutch or English world edition via Bol.com!

Plastic-free airports and flights in Dubai

Amsterdam, 10 December 2019 – The two airports of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will become plastic-free from 1 January. Last June, Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC), which together account for 90 million passengers per year, announced that they were already banning all single-use plastics. Now, the deed is followed by the word, and airlines follow.

At airports, there are numerous companies that serve passengers with single-use plastics, such as shops and restaurants. In Dubai, there are more than 250 such companies. Of these, 95% support the initiative to replace single-use plastics in phases. These include plastic cutlery, straws, and bags. Interestingly, these companies also include multinationals like McDonalds and Starbucks. When these companies show what they can do at Dubai airports, there is no excuse not to do the same at other airports, even if the initiative for this does not come from the airports.

Plastic-free flights

Meanwhile, Emirates Airlines has announced to reduce single-use plastics on board, such as replacing plastic straws. Plastic bottles are collected for recycling, which is 150,000 per month. Another company from the United Arab Emirates, Etihad Airways, promises to use 80% less single-use plastics by 2022. These companies follow the initiative of the airports but are not the first to offer plastic-free flights. The Portuguese airline Hi Fly made history when it introduced some of the first plastic-free flights a year ago. Now, single-use plastics have been replaced by more sustainable alternatives on all their flights. The Mirpuri Foundation estimates that airlines produce 15 million kilos of plastic once a day or about 150 kilos per plane per day.

Hopefully, Schiphol and KLM will follow suit.

Photo: Mirpuri Foundation

Cheap plastic toys can be dangerous for children

Amsterdam, November 29, 2019 – It’s Black Friday. The bargain madness that continues until Christmas has begun. Next month, children will be flooded with plastic toys that are mainly made in China. These include toys that are harmful to their health. Strangely enough, manufacturers are not obliged to state which chemicals are in toys.

European safety requirements must be tightened up

The European Environmental Bureau (EBB) has compiled all the data on hazardous plastic toys and has launched an awareness campaign. The conclusion is that the European Union urgently needs to tighten up its policy on toys. The current policy does stipulate that certain chemical substances may not be present in toys or only up to a certain level. Products that do not meet these requirements will be placed on the Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Non-food Products so that national governments can intervene quickly. However, it is impossible to determine how many dangerous toys are slipping through the loopholes of European legislation.

False CE mark

In 2019, 248 toy models failed to meet the standards. These models (representing a total of several tens of millions of toys) cannot be sold in the European Union. Half of these are made of plastic and 88% of the models came from China. Of the plastic toys that were stopped at the border, 92% had the CE mark, as if they met the EU standards, but were wrongly put on them by the Chinese manufacturer.

The safety system is not watertight

To check whether sold toys comply with the standards, several NGOs have independently investigated toys for chemicals. Here is an overview of what NGOs are reporting for this year:

  • In Denmark one-third of the toys had a too high content of phthalates;
  • In Germany, toys were tested for 240 chemicals. Naphthalene was most commonly found, in four cases in critical quantities;
  • In Italy, color pens were analyzed. Two of the eighteen were found to be chemically hazardous;
  • In Denmark, almost half of the balloons tested were found to contain more nitrosamine than permitted.

There have also been warnings for years about the presence of persistent organic toxins (POPs) in toys made of recycled plastic. In 2017, the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) examined 95 Rubrics cubes and a further 16 items, such as combs and toys, from 26 countries. Of the cubes studied, 90% contained toxic flame retardants from the shells of discarded electronic devices. Even chemicals that were banned years ago are found in new toys.

Labels should be made compulsory for toys

In particular, measures are needed to prevent the return of toxic substances through recycling in consumer goods such as toys. One effective measure is the mandatory indication of the substances used on a label, as is the case, for example, with care products.

Tatiana Santos, EEB policy officer: “The EU should get tough; ban all toxic chemicals and close the loopholes. Also, any toys allowed into toy shops should carry a label with the chemical ingredients and warning signs if needed. This way, parents could see what chemicals are in the toys they buy for their children and make informed choices.”

Photo: Yellow duck that has been forbidden on the European market because of chemicals

 

Read also – ‘Toxic soup’ Dioxins in plastic toys

Read more – Protection against toxic chemicals in plastic fails