Unprecedented heavy lobby against European Commission proposals

Amsterdam, 15 September 2018 – With a knife in the back, the European plastic and packaging industry is showing its true colours. The European Commission proposed a new Directive last May which revolves around dealing with single-use plastic by banning certain plastic products like drinking straws and disposable cutlery, and making producers responsible for the waste phase of their products.

Last month, the plastic and packaging industry responded to the proposal with a statement signed by 68 companies in the industry. The Afvalfonds signed for the Netherlands and Fost Plus signed for Belgium.

The plastic and packaging industry’s statement in particular objects to article 8 which says that producers should be made responsible for clearing up single-use plastic. It argues that industry is not responsible, but the polluting citizens themselves. There is limited awareness and waste collection is poorly organised. The lobby’s object is clear: to continue to produce unlimited amounts of plastic and to keep the production costs to a minimum.

An alliance of environmental organisations, including the Plastic Soup Foundation, has expressed its concern about the plastic and packaging industry’s position and has itself produced a statement which argues the case for each point raised by the industry. The plastic and packaging industry should not attack the proposed Directive but should embrace it, recognise its own responsibility and not continue shoving the responsibility on consumers.

SCRAPbook: Aerial photos show Scotland’s litter

Amsterdam, 16 August 2018 – It was World Cleanup Day on 15 September and all over the world people went out to clear up litter. In some countries that is easier said than done. Scotland is one such country. It has a sparse population and an irregular coastline, much of which is hard to access. Its mainland coast alone is about 10,000 km long. The remote places are never cleared up and the litter is piling up there. It is clear to see where these hotspots are from the air.

The environmental organisation, Marine Conservation Society, joined forces with pilots from the charity Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol to think up an unusual way of dealing with this problem. From the air, photos with GPS tagging were made of the litter. There is a special site with a map of Scotland showing the photos.

SCRAPbook, the site, has two objectives. One, it allows volunteers to see where they need to go to clear up the rubbish and they know the scale of the problem in advance. The problem can then be dealt with more efficiently. Two, it maps the litter along the Scottish coast. The inaccessibility of the coastline has meant that up to now, the litter was not visible and that there are places that have never been cleaned. The amount of litter and the most affected areas were not known. The information collected now can help measures to be taken to address further pollution.



Also read: Citizen Science: a good reason to clear up litter

Proud: Sander Hoogendoorn from 3FM is our new ambassador

Amsterdam, 14 September 2018 – We are proud to announce a new ambassador: Sander Hoogendoorn. Sander is known as radio DJ at 3FM. He is the voice of the morning show of 3FM from Monday to Friday. Sander is a huge lover of orcas and their natural environment. That is why he has become an ambassador for the Plastic Soup Foundation. You want to protect what you love. As ambassador he contributes to the protection of the ocean.

Thank you Sander, and welcome to our team.

Click here to read the biography of Sander!


Cleanup system of Boyan Slat entered the Pacific Ocean 

Amsterdam, 14 September 2018 On Saturday the 8th of September the cleanup system of Boyan Slat entered the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean Cleanup starts the first major test phase with a tube of 600 meters in length and a screen of 3 meters deep. This tube will swipe all the plastic waste together. The waste will be taken to the mainland with a ship. If this test goes well, more of this kind of tubes will be build that will clean up half of the 80 million kilos of plastic in the Pacific Ocean within 5 years. Check out the news item below that RTL Nieuws broadcasted in which we were also interviewed (from 8: 00-10: 12):

The project had an enormous impact on the awareness of the plastic soup. We therefore wish Boyan a lot of success and are very curious about the results! We also want to encourage him to develop installations for rivers; 80% of all waste comes from the rivers and end up in the ocean.

Ultimately, the solution must be found in the prevention of all plastic waste that now ends up in the environment. Since our establishment in 2011, we have been trying to achieve this goal by tackling the sources of plastic soup, such as microplastics in cosmetics and synthetic fibers from clothing.

G7 Youth calls for intensifying the international battle against the plastic soup

From 19 to 21 September, the environmental ministers from the G7 countries will come together in Halifax, Canada. They will meet to discuss a sustainable future. One of the subjects on the agenda is to further work on the Oceans Plastics Charter, adopted at the G7 top last June in Ottawa. Of the G7 countries, the USA and Japan have not signed this charter.

Any measures that the G7 discusses and implements have a great impact on the generations to come. The G7 is advised by Youth 7 (Y7), a delegation that represents the youth of the G7 member states. What are the Y7’s recommendations to the environmental ministers who will meet on the Oceans Plastics Charter?

The Y7’s recently published recommendations stress the need for the G7 to take legally binding measures to tackle the causes of the plastic soup crisis. It needs to be far more rigorous than the Oceans Plastics Charter. One example is that not the suggested 55% of all plastic packaging should be recycled in 2030, but 85% of all plastic should be recycled in 2025. The emphasis should be on reducing plastic production while alternative products must not depend on greater use of fossil fuels. The Oceans Plastics Charter currently places the emphasis on recycling and recovering. The Y7 however, believes that the G7 should explicitly reduce the waste stream and that we should be zero plastic waste in 2025.

The Y7’s statement also emphasises three other measures:

  • Putting the onus of recycling on manufacturers so that manufacturers take their products back and are responsible for their recycling;
  • A complete ban on single use plastics;
  • A complete ban on microplastics in cosmetics and toiletries.

These too must be attained before 2025. Young people are the future, but they will only have a future if the seats of power in the most important world economies take the right decisions now.

Also read: The G7’s Ocean Plastics Charter

Photo/logo Julia Grandfield

Trophic transfer of microplastics in seals confirmed

Amsterdam, 06 September 2018 – Marine animals eat microplastics when they mistake it for food. When they themselves are eaten, the microplastics are unintentionally ingested by the predator. This process is called the ‘trophic transfer’ of microplastics. The trophic transfer could potentially spread microplastics throughout the entire food chain. In a recently published study in Environmental Pollution, the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals, higher up in the food chain, is confirmed. This is an indirect but potentially important form of ingestion of microplastics.

To research the trophic transfer of microplastics, four captive grey seals were fed with mackerel caught off the English coast. The digestive tracts of 31 mackerels were examined to gain an impression of the presence of microplastics. The faeces of the seals were also collected twice a week for 16 weeks and examined for the presence of microplastics. The types of plastic that were found in the mackerel and the faeces showed significant overlap, with ethylene propylene the most commonly occurring type of plastic. There were some differences too, however. Ten of the 31 mackerels had 18 types of microplastics, 72% of which were plastic fibres and 28% small plastic fragments. In 15 of the 31 faeces, 26 microplastics were found, mostly consisting of small plastic fragments (69%) and, to a lesser degree, plastic fibres (31%).

The most important explanation for the differences is that the mackerel whose digestive tracts were examined were not the mackerel that were fed to the seals. Direct ingestion of the microplastics is unlikely as the seals had already resided in the centre for four years and were thus not recently exposed to plastic debris in the ocean. The researchers therefore concluded that this research confirms the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals.

The potential effects of the microplastics on the seals was also discussed. Previous research showed that microplastics in the digestive system reduces nutrition absorption, energy reserves and reproduction which could have a negative impact on the animals. Whether this also applies to seals is not known. Further, during the production process, added chemicals and organic substances that later attach to the plastic in the water may also have negative effects on the health of seals. Finally, the authors state the possible effects on human health. We too consume marine animals are thus exposed to microplastics through the trophic transfer. A recent survey mapped the potential health hazards of microplastics for humans.



Marine microplastic pollution: possible threat to public health

Amsterdam, 29 August 2018 – Possible hazards of marine microplastics are increasingly brought to our attention. A recently published outline study in Marine Pollution Bulletin mapped these potential hazards with respect to food safety and health. As plastics break up into ever smaller particles, their concentration in the environment continuously increases. The presence of microplastics in many types of fish and shellfish has already been demonstrated. Laboratory experiments show that marine organisms exposed to relatively high concentrations may suffer health problems, including reduced fertility and damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Should these effects also occur in organisms in the environment, microplastics could have negative consequences for marine populations and ecosystems. The researchers point out that the food supply for humans may then also be threatened.

We as humans are not only exposed to micro plastics by consuming fish and shellfish. They are in the air we breathe and in products we use, such as beer, honey, salt and tap water. The smallest microplastics are potentially capable of leaving the gastrointestinal tract and entering the so-called lymphatic and cardiovascular system. As a result, microplastics could spread throughout the body, including the organs. At these locations microplastics can then cause damage to cells.

There are also other possible health risks related to micro plastics. Chemicals added to plastics during the production process may leak from the plastics at a later stage. And organic toxins, present in the environment, attach themselves to plastic like iron to a magnet. Furthermore, the presence of bacteria, including potential pathogens, on plastic has been demonstrated. Especially in areas with a lot of plastic waste and poor sanitation this can have major consequences.

There is therefore every reason to consider microplastics as a possible threat to public health. However, there is a lot of uncertainty. For example, no methods are so far available to measure the smallest microplastic particles, which makes it therefore impossible to determine to what extent we are exposed. In addition, there is still scientific uncertainty about the question of whether the microplastics that enter our body actually cause health problems.

The recommendations of the authors include: a risk analysis on food safety, further studies on the toxicity of microplastics, and improving techniques to detect the smallest microplastic particles in particular.


Also read: How damaging is breathing in microplastics?


Plastic waste releases greenhouse gases

Amsterdam, August 27, 2018 – It’s no news that plastic contributes to climate change. The production of plastic amounts to about 5% of the world’s annual production of oil. This way, plastic contributes to global warming. A new study also proves that plastic waste contributes to climate change. It’s mostly related to the emission of the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene, which are released from plastic waste under the influence of sunlight. Polyethylene, the most-used type of plastic, emits the most of these two gases. It’s the first time the emission of greenhouse gases in plastic waste has been studied.

All types of plastics that were tested emitted gases. The quantities are relatively low, but because there’s a constant increase in plastic production and plastics disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces, both the size and the speed of the greenhouse gas production will increase, researchers suspect. It’s a source, in short, that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The results are a nice example of serendipity. Oceanographer Sarah-Jeanne Royer of the University of Hawaii was conducting a study on methane gas from organic materials, which she kept in plastic bottles. When, unexpectedly, a lot more gas was released than expected, she realized it came from the bottles as well. Read the BBC article here.

Closing the plastic loop without the government is impossible

Amsterdam, 27 August 2018 Five years ago, the Dutch plastic cycle value chain agreement was signed and the participants declared to do their utmost to close the plastic loop. According to the information on their website, essential steps should have been put in place to create sustainable production processes, the promotion of plastic re-use on a large scale, through engineering and design solutions, and the collection of plastic waste in a environmentally friendly manner, within two years after signing the agreement.

However, the plastic loop is still open and, even worse, plastic producers actively frustrate these steps necessary to close the plastic loop. P-plus, the multimedia magazine for corporate social responsibility in the Netherlands, published an eye-opening interview with Peter Rem, TU Delft professor. He states that plastic producers deliberately prevent the recycling of their plastics, by adding components that make high-quality recycling virtually impossible, in order to protect their turnover. And therefore, thousands of different types of plastics have been created all of which have a slightly different chemical composition.

Peter Rem is of the opinion that the government should act by forcing plastic producers to take back their own plastics. Recycling must become and integral part of the production process. Rem: “The producer of Domestos, for instance, knows that their bottle will not be returned to them. They pay their monetary contribution to the Packaging Waste Fund so their bottles can be recycled into some lower quality product. Only if the bottle is returned to Domestos will it be interesting for them to recycle their bottles into new bottles.”

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We signed the plastic cycle value chain agreement full enthusiasm, but always remained of the opinion that the government should also implement the appropriate rules and regulations. Sadly, it turned out that the policies, based on the voluntary agreements, do not work. Therefore the government should ensure that recycling becomes an integral part of the production process, and not seen as just something that limits financial gains. Plastic producers should be ashamed.”



Ocean Clean Wash: Closing the loop on microfiber pollution

Ocean Clean Wash is redirecting its campaign in order to close the loop of microfiber pollution from synthetic clothes: we are tackling each step of the value chain and looking for solutions. We expect a reduction of 80% of synthetic microfiber release in the coming years.

In order to do this, we have gathered stakeholders from each stage of the product lifecycle that has shown interest in working on and promoting solutions. Together, they form the Coalition of the Willing.

We believe that we need to find solutions in the yarn manufacturing stage, fabric manufacturing stage, and even at the end of the product’s lifecycle. It is not an option to only focus on one step of the chain: the responsibility of this issue devolves upon all the stakeholders involved in lifecycle of clothing. By combining solutions in the entire cycle, microfiber pollution will gradually reduce and will eventually be totally prevented.

There are currently solutions that are looking extremely promising and will significantly reduce the amount of microfibers released. A washing machine filter is being developed by the start-up Planet Care in Slovenia and recent tests show that it can stop up to 80% of the fibers released. At the same time, the research institute Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) in Italy is working on a pectin coating that can be added to the yarn and could potentially prevent 80% of microfiber release.

As part of the campaign from the past few months, we have been testing four fashion brands to rank them in terms of microfiber release. The research institute CNR in Italy tested two sports brands and two fast fashion brands following constant variables. The results of these tests will be disclosed mid-October.

If, as a stakeholder, you are interested in being part of the Coalition of the Willing to find solutions and finally solve what probably is the biggest source of microplastic pollution in our ocean, please contact laura@plasticsoupfoundation.org.