Banks and insurance companies in the Netherlands invest billions in shale gas and plastic production

Amsterdam, 16 July 2019 – Most major banks and insurers in the Netherlands invest heavily in companies that extract shale gas and produce plastics. ING is the largest financier of shale gas and plastics. Aegon and Allianz are the largest investors. Between 2010 and this year, the banks a total of 5.3 billion dollars to the gas and plastic companies examined. Banks and insurers invest 4 billion dollars in these companies.

This was established by the new practical research of the Fair Banking and Insurance Guide in collaboration with the Plastic Soup Foundation. Click here to read the report Plastic Finance; How Dutch financial institutions enable shale gas to fuel the plastic soup disaster. The report establishes the first direct relationship between investments in shale gas and plastic production and the increase in plastic soup on rivers, seas and oceans.

Fracking for Plastic

Due to cheap shale gas, production or (packaging) plastic has been increasing considerably. Since 2010, no less than 204 billion dollars has been invested in the United States in the expansion of plastic production based on ethane, a component or shale gas. Ethane is also transported to Europe with mammoth tankers. New plastic plants are being built in Antwerp to crack this ethane. Ethane is cheaper than the petroleum derivative naphta, traditionally used as raw material used for production of plastic. Ethane is used to make ethylene, a basis for all types of plastics such as PET and polyethylene.

Shale gas extraction is also a growing industry in Argentina. But plastic production is just one of many reasons why shale gas does not fit into a sustainable investment strategy. During loading, transport and handling of virgin plastic, many nurdles (the industrial base pellet) and up in the environment. These small plastic pellets are used as a semi-finished product in the production of virtually all plastic products.

Image Text: Does your bank pollute the world with plastic?

Investments by Dutch banks and insurance companies

The seven largest Dutch banks and the nine largest insurance groups in the Netherlands were investigated by the Fair Banking and Insurance Guide. Insurers Aegon and Allianz were found to be the largest investors in shale gas and plastics. On the reference date (18-20 February of this year), the stock portfolios of the joint Dutch banks and insurance companies in this sector had a total value of almost 4 billion dollars.

When it comes to loans, ING is largest by far, followed by ABN Amro. These figures are found in public sources on the financing of the ten selected shale gas and plastic companies. The total investments in shale gas and plastic companies are probably much higher.

Shale gas and plastic: a blind spot

The adverse effects of shale gas extraction on the environment and climate are well-known and are an increasing topic of conversation among investors. The direct relationship between shale gas and the production of plastic and, consequently, the leakage of plastic disposable products into the plastic soup in seas is underexposed and unknown to many market parties.

As a result of their investments in companies such as Shell, Exxon Mobil, DowDuPont and Chevron, banks and insurers play a role in the rapid growth of plastic production. All banks and insurers say they embrace the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals also include protection of the climate and the oceans. Investments in shale gas companies and companies that produce plastics are directly opposed to achieving the SDGs.

Bank’s claim to worry about the plastic soup, but often have no policy regarding investment in plastic production. Rabo, NIBC, Volksbank (including ASN) and Triodos exclude, in whole or in part, investment companies that realize their turnover from the extraction of shale gas. ING’s policy allows shale gas extraction outside Europe only. No clear policy was found among the other banks and insurers. When it comes to investments in plastic and / or plastic producing companies, only Triodos and Volksbank have restrictive policy. The Fair Bank Guide, Fair Insurance Guide and Plastic Soup Foundation encourage all banks and insurers to clarify their investment policy and place shale gas on the exclusion list of investments.

The Fair Money Guide

The Fair Money Guide examines whether banks and insurance companies do not invest your money in things like animal abuse, arms trafficking or child labor. On their website anyone can check the scores or banks and insurers on these and other topics. The Fair Money Guide, which consists of the Fair Bank Guide and the Fair Insurance Guide, is a collaboration of Amnesty International, FNV, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Oxfam Novib, PAX and World Animal Protection. Plastic Soup Foundation supports the objective of the Fair Money Guide on the plastic issue. Send the banks and insurers a complaint or tweet via the website honestegeldwijzer.nl

Also read – Press release Fair money guide

Also read – Does the Rutte Cabinet really want less plastic?

Also read – Ineos invests 3 billion euros in plastic plants in Antwerp

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Microplastics found in 119 detergent brands

Amsterdam, July 3 2019 – In Austria, an environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and a consumer organisation (AK OÖ) together tested 300 detergents for microplastics. In 119 detergents microplastics (> 50 μm) were found. Not just the lists of ingredients were examined, but also 36 samples were tested for microplastic contents in a laboratory.

GLOBAL 2000

The results were compared with the list of 520 polymers published by ECHA early 2019 (Annex XV Restriction Report). It is expected that these polymers will be banned from the European Union next year. Already during the investigation some supermarket chains committed to removing the so-called “microbeads” from their home brands.  The report, Test Plastik in Waschmitteln, welcomes this step, but also calls for a ban of all added microplastics – including the liquids.

Liquid plastic

The European chemicals agency ECHA has proposed to ban from the European Union all purposely added microplastics in detergents in 2020. However, this proposal will probably not include plastics in solved or liquid form. Is it unclear to what extend these liquid polymers are biodegradable. The report therefore calls for inclusion of liquid plastics on the list of ingredients to be banned. The report shows that there are plenty of brands that can do without.

Flawed information

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients on product packaging. European legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. The investigators note that this form of information is both tedious and flawed. They call for legislation that ensures that in all cases all ingredients are listed on packaging, just like with personal care products.


Also read: ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics 

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We eat, drink and breathe more than 100,000 microplastics per year

Amsterdam, 27 June 2019 – The fact that each day we eat, drink and breathe microplastics has been known for some time; but the number of microplastics involved was still unclear. Researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada have now investigated how many microplastics an average American citizen intakes. An estimate was also made for American children.

Estimates

Based on previously published data on microplastics in food & beverage and in the air, the researchers made estimates of the minimum intake. An adult male in America intakes the most plastic particles: about 121,000 microplastics per year. For women the figure is 98,000 particles. The largest sources of microplastics turned out to be bottled water, fish and shellfish. Bottled water contains no less than 94 particles of microplastics per litre, compared to 4 particles per litre in tap water. It is estimated that children ingest between 74,000 and 81,000 plastic particles annually.

Gross underestimation

However, the available data is far from complete. For example, there is no data available on the amount of microplastics in chicken, beef, cereals and vegetables. The food & beverage groups included in this study therefore represent only 15% of the calorie intake of the average American. For this reason, according to the researchers, the figures presented are probably a gross underestimation of the actual exposure. They recommend research into other food groups in order to obtain a more complete picture.

WWF campaign

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently started a new campaign: we would ingest five grams of microplastics per week, comparable to the weight of a credit card. These five grams are based on an intake via food & drink of about 2,000 particles per week, of which 90% is through bottled water. The Canadian study also found around 2,000 particles per week, but that includes the particles we breathe. The WWF did not consider airborne intake.

Knowledge gap has health consequences

However, it does not seem appropriate to emphasise the weight of the intake. It is suspected that the most harmful particles weigh the least. This is also emphasised by the Canadian researchers. The smaller, and therefore lighter, particles may be able to pass through the intestinal and lung barriers and spread through the rest of our bodies. However, it is not known to what extent these particles are ingested, as they are so small that they cannot be detected with the current measurement methods.

Plastic Soup Foundation is concerned that so little research has been done into the health effects of micro- and nanoplastics and wants to know if we become sick from them. The aim of the Plastic Health Coalition, a partnership between scientists and environmental organisations initiated by the Plastic Soup Foundation, is to answer this question.


Read also – Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight
Read also – Health Council: “Prevent health risks caused by micro and nanoplastics”

Introduction to the Ocean5

In December 2019 the Ocean5 will be competing in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. Considered to be the toughest ocean to cross in the world, the challenge is to row an open, unsupported boat more than 3000 miles west from La Gomera, Canary Islands to English Harbour, Antigua – something that has been achieved by fewer people than have been into space.

Recognised as the premier global event in ocean rowing, with up to 25 teams from around the world competing for the winner’s title and potential world record, the five teammates will be rowing continuously for 24 hours a day the Ocean5 crew will be faced with sleep deprivation, isolation and physical exhaustion. All the while facing the unpredictable and unrelenting forces of the north Atlantic.

The Ocean5 will be undertaking this challenge with the aim to make a difference to the health of the oceans and the security of our planet by fundraising for and supporting the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). Recognised by the international press as “One of the leading advocacy groups to tackle plastic pollution”, the PSF is a charity working on putting an end to the increase in the amount of plastic in our oceans by tackling the issue at source. Now in its tenth year, the PSF has grown from a small group of motivated volunteers without funding, to a competent and committed team with a worldwide network. Through smart and witty campaigns, they have influenced the public, industry and politicians. Their most recent campaign against the use of cosmetic microplastics was supported by 98 NGOs in 44 countries and saw 119 brands take direct action and eliminate microplastics in their products.

More plastic is set to be produced in the next five years than in the whole of the 20th century, meaning that the problem of plastic pollution will get worse unless decisive action is taken now.

The Plastic Soup Foundation is taking that action.

Follow the Ocean5 on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Amsterdam first Plastic Smart City

Amsterdam, 20 June 2019 – Amsterdam is the first city worldwide to join the Plastic Smart Cities initiative. Today the City of Amsterdam, WWF Netherlands and the Plastic Soup Foundation have signed a letter of intent to significantly reduce plastic pollution in the city.

The Plastic Soup Foundation will assist the City of Amsterdam and advise them in the development of an action programme and its implementation. The action programme should lead to a clean city in 2030, without plastic pollution. Trade and industry will also be involved in the approach to prevent plastic waste of plastic and promote circular solutions.

Plastic Smart Cities is a WWF initiative to motivate cities around the world – in particular the cities that are tourist hotspots – to set clear and attainable targets to reduce plastic pollution in their city. The WWF aims to have recruited 1000 Plastic Smart Cities in 2030. Kirsten Schuijt, Director of WWF-Netherlands, announced also being in contact with, among others, Oslo, Marseille and Hong Kong. ” Through its global presence the WWF can help cities situated at the water to connect to each other. That way they can learn from each other about the reduction of plastic pollution. Half the world’s population now lives in cities and this will only increase in the coming decades. Cities can make all the difference by being active and innovative in dealing with the reduction of plastic pollution. I am proud that Amsterdam is now taking the lead. ”

Kirsten Schuijt and Jeroen Dagevos watch Constance Steenkamp-Faaij signing the letter of intent on behalf of the municipality of Amsterdam.

Constance Steenkamp-Faaij, manager in the department responsible for the daily visual quality of public space in Amsterdam, signed the letter of intent on behalf of the city of Amsterdam. She announced that as a pilot a capture system for plastic waste in the water in Amsterdam will be installed at a location to be announced later. “Make no mistake, Amsterdam has 400 km of quays and banks. Almost 40 percent of the city’surface consists of water. We are totally connected with water. We must do all we can to keep the problem of plastic pollution manageable. For this reason we invite citizens to help us find solutions to prevent litter in the canals ”

Litter invariably takes first place when surveys question Amsterdam citizens about their annoyances in public space. “Every day, Waternet takes 3.5 tonnes of waste out of the water. This is not just plastic, but also bicycles, televisions and other junk. Annually, the Netherlands spends 250 million euros on the clearing and processing of litter. These numbers indicate the importance of a city like Amsterdam continuing to take steps forward on this issue. ”

Requirements they have to comply with are already established with the approximately 2,500 festivals that are organized annually in Amsterdam. These do not only involve the sound level, but also regulate the waste management at festivals. In 2020 the licensing policy will be further tightened.

Jeroen Dagevos, Head of Programs of the Plastic Soup Foundation, also signed the letter of intent. “This is a first step and it is now important realize matters. There will be a pilot in which waste is collected and monitored so that measures can be taken to stop leakage at the source. We welcome this, the beauty of pilots is that you can see if measures work. Plastic production will increase further in the coming years. It is therefore extremely important that we get its leakage to the environment under control. Otherwise our children will ask us what we actually did when we knew how much plastic was leaked into the sea and what the impact was on humans and animals.”

The city of Amsterdam and the Plastic Soup Foundation have already been working together within the Amsterdam Clean Water covenant that was established in 2016.


Also read:

Amsterdam Clean Water publishes clip about clean canals in the city

New initiative multinationals is blatant greenwashing

Amsterdam, 14 June 2019 – The last few years, multinational companies goals have formulated goals how to deal with the plastic pollution, while they themselves caused it with their single-use packaging. The plastic production will increase with 40% over the next ten years and these companies want to fully exploit that growth. No initiative to reduce the plastic soup should therefore stand in the way of the growth of plastic use. Whether it’s McDonald’s, Procter Gamble, Nestlé, Unilever or Coca-Cola, they all come up with false solutions. These are measures which, on the one hand, suggest that the plastic soup is being addressed, but, on the other hand, do nothing at all to slow down growth. The most recent initiative of these parties was launched last week.

Danone, Veolia, Nestlé and Tatra Pak’s 3R initiative

At the Responsible Business Summit in London it was announced that food and beverage multinationals will cooperate in the 3R Initiative to curb the rapidly increasing plastic pollution. This will be done by promoting recycling plus the introduction of a new credit system. Participating companies will be able to use the 3R Crediting Mechanism to buy credits in projects aimed at cleaning up and recycling. In particular African, Southeast Asian and South American projects can be financed in this way. There are twelve of such projects. The sale of “plastic waste recovery credits” can provide waste pickers with more income. Read more about the initiative.

What do the multinationals fail to do?

In 2018, the Brand Audit Report concludes that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé  are the top three of companies that contribute to the plastic soup with their packaging. The companies selling the most, are precisely the same companies of which most litter is found. This is the case in the countries where waste is not collected and recycled and where waste pickers earn nothing because waste has no value. It is an illusion that the proposed measures offer relief. As to be expected, measures that really make a difference are lacking entirely in the 3R Initiative:

  • Embrace annual reduction targets of packaging plastics to eventually banish these entirely;
  • Be fully transparent about the total annual production of plastics used per brand and not just per item;
  • Start eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastics, such as the mini packs, immediately;
  • Invest in reusable packaging and ensure that adequate logistic processes are used.

Maria Westerbos, managing director from the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This initiative is aimed at not taking the measures that need to be taken. It is an example of blatant greenwashing that will lead to many more plastic packaged products being sold worldwide in years to come, instead of less. At the same time there is not a single guarantee that less plastic will end up in the oceans.”


Also read:

Greenpeace torpedoes plans of multinationals to curb plastic soup

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Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight

Amsterdam, 13 June 2019 – It is well known that we drink, eat and breathe plastic particles. But how many are there and how harmful it is for our health? This week the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a study and comes up with new information. The main conclusion in the publication No plastic in nature: assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people is that we may ingest 5 grams of plastic per week, as much as the weight of a credit card. The researchers base their conclusions on existing studies and rightly express many reservations.

 New WWF campaign

The report, which calls on Governments to take drastic action to fight the plastic soup and also advocates that much more research needs to be done, is accompanied by a new campaign launched by the WWF. The campaign has the shocking weekly amount of 5 grams of plastic that a person ingests as its theme. This is compared to daily objects such as a pen, a credit card or a dice, to get the message across how much plastic you ingest. Although this campaign will reach a wide audience, some nuance is called for.

Emphasis on weight says little

The research was carried out by the University of Newcastle in Australia. For their calculation researchers estimated the weight of the plastic particles. They take as their starting point an estimated weekly ingestion of 2000 plastic particles, a total weight of 5 grams. We are assumed to ingest about 90% through drinking water, through tap water and in particular through bottles of water. A study that was published last year (and to which the researchers also refer), found microplastics in 93% of the 259 bottles of mineral water that were studied, an average of 325 particles per litre. However, the vast majority— 315 particles — are ultra-small particles. So small that their weight cannot be determined.  Earlier this week, also a Canadian study on Human Consumption or Microplastics was published. According to this research the annual ingestion is 50,000 particles. These too are ultra-small particles that weigh virtually nothing.

Emphasis should be on size

Precisely those ultra-small particles, called nanoplastics, are most relevant for human health. More accurately: the particles that are almost insignificant in weight, are probably the most harmful. These can penetrate cell membranes and make their way into the organs. Larger particles, of which the weight can be determined, are usually defecated. It must be noted that there are still no standard methods to assess the risks of micro- and nanoplastics in the body.

Plastic Health Coalition

To find out how dangerous micro- and nanoplastics really are, the Plastic Soup Foundation has initiated a partnership in which scientists and environmental organisations work together: The Plastic Health Coalition. Earlier this year, ZonMW, The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, started fifteen studies into the effects of micro-and nanoplastics in this framework. On 3 October 2019, during the Plastic Health Summit, the first results are to be presented.


Also read:

ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Camera in Wageningen captures coral eating plastic

Amsterdam, 12 June 2019 – Filmed for the first time: coral eating microplastics. And they even seem to enjoy it. A marine biologist from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) has the disturbing primeur.

Coral normally feeds on plankton. In 2015, researchers discovered that stony corals are unable to distinguish between plankton and microplastics when filtering water. Analysis at the time showed that 21% of the corals investigated contained at least one microplastic. Many animals mistake plastic for food, but coral does not have eyes. Other researchers therefore made the assumption in 2017 that corals eat plastic because they like the taste. The phenomenon has now been filmed.

Tasty additives?

Coral turns out to have a preference for clean plastic above plastic that is covered by a layer of bacteria. The plastic, itself, seems to be a treat for the plankton. It seems likely that this is the result of the chemical additives in plastic. The corals ate all of the different kinds of plastic that were tested, but showed no interest in sand. The coral can’t properly process the plastic that is swallowed. It is also clear that, as a result of the growing plastic pollution, corals more regularly come into contact with plastic.

Filmed: coral eating plastic

Tim Wijgerde, a marine biologist from Wageningen University, has been studying coral for years, specifically recovery and conservation of coral riffs. He has successfully filmed coral consuming various pieces of plastic. Wijgerde: “Although we already knew that corals can eat plastic, there were no clear recordings of this behaviour until now. So I set up a high-resolution camera above coral polyps in our coral lab in Wageningen, and fed the coral with pieces of plastic of about 2 millimetres. Within an hour it was evident that our coral also found the plastic very tasty. The next step will be to investigate how harmful microplastic is for the continued existence of coral.”

Watch Tim’s film, A Reef by Night and Day. The film runs for 12 minutes: The fragment alluded to above starts after 10 minutes and 40 seconds.


Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick

Plus Supermarket works around the European Ban on single-use plastics

Amsterdam, May 23, 2019 — Europe forbids its member-states from selling single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks). This is one of the measures that ware mentioned in the new guidelines for single-use plastics. The Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Reduction of the Impact of Certain Plastic Products on the Environment, as the guidelines are officially called, was definitively approved this month now that the European Council has also approved of it. Selling disposable cutlery is therefore prohibited as of 2021. Despite this impending ban, the Dutch supermarket PLUS has already found a way to circumvent the prohibition by marketing plastic cutlery as an environmentally friendly “washable” product. 

Background of the Directive
In order to prevent the exponentially-increasing amount of plastic in the environment, Europe has adopted new rules. These new rules prohibit the use of certain single-use products if there are alternatives. The prohibited products are those which are often found in the environment, such as disposable cutlery; plastic forks, spoons, and knives are often found in places where people picnic, such as on beaches and in parks. The new regulation seeks to eliminate plastic products that are usually thrown away after being used just once or twice — they may no longer be sold as of 2021.
PLUS Supermarket
PLUS Supermarket’s marketers claim that the company is striving to minimize its impact on the environment and touts its corporate social responsibility program. One might, therefore, expect that PLUS brand plastic cutlery — in anticipation of the forthcoming plastic ban — would be removed from shelves. Instead, the brand is suddenly presenting their plastic cutlery as a “sustainable” product that would benefit the environment. It is an embarrassment.

New study shows: plastic soup interferes with oxygen production

Amsterdam, 24 May 2019 – Oxygen producing bacteria that live in the sea suffer from chemicals, which are added to plastics during the production process. Australian researchers discovered that these chemicals leach from the plastic and interfere with the Prochlorococcus bacteria, which produces about 10% of the oxygen we breathe. Their cutting-edge study is published in Communications Biology and a summary is available here.

Sunlight converted into oxygen by bacteria

The Prochlorococcus bacteria were discovered only thirty years ago. With the help of sunlight these tiny microbes convert carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen is a by-product of this process. These abundant bacteria are critical to the marine food web and carbon cycle. Despite the fact that the organism is essential for these systems, the effects of plastic pollution on this species have not been studied before.

Laboratory research

These bacteria are mainly present in the gyres, the circulating currents in the oceans, where plastic debris is abundant too. The effects of these chemical additives leaching from the plastic have been studied in a laboratory setting. And the research showed that the chemicals interfered with growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production. However, the researchers point out that concentrations used in the laboratory tests differ from the concentration of these chemicals in the oceans. Therefore, the importance of this study lies mainly in the discovered effect.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are shocked by these discoveries. The plastic soup appears to have an influence on the oxygen production on earth. More research into this effect should be a high priority.”


Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick