New industrial offensive: Alliance to End Plastic Waste

Amsterdam, 17 January 2019– Industrial top companies from around the world have jointly founded an NGO, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), and launched this in London yesterday. The 27 participating companies have pledged more than 1 billion dollars to fight plastic pollution. In about a five-year period the budget must have increased to 1.5 billion dollars. The approach is two-fold; on the one hand, solutions are to be developed for size and treatment of plastic waste, and, on the other hand, reuse and recycling are promoted. Among the participants are multinationals like BASF, Dow, Shell Chemical and ExxonMobil. Procter & Gamble is President of the AEPW.

AEPW has four priority areas:

  • Infrastructure. Developing waste management infrastructure and more recycling.
  • Innovation. Innovation in recycling techniques for better recycling and thereby adding value to plastic waste.
  • Education. Providing information to governments, businesses and communities to initiate action.
  • Clean Up. The capture of stray plastic, especially in the Asian rivers that contribute to the plastic soup most.

The initiative, in its own words “the most comprehensive effort to date to end plastic waste in the environment“, is not unexpected. There is increasing pressure on companies to take their responsibility for the plastic soup and governments worldwide are increasingly taking measures, including the ban on certain disposable plastic items.

Now that climate action and energy transition are putting the oil industry under pressure, the production of plastic is a lifeline that can deliver a considerable return for a series of oil giants. Up to 2023, the American chemical industry will invest an amount of no less than 164 billion dollars in 264 new plastic factories. INEOS will spend 2.7 billion euros on building two factories in Antwerp that make plastic pellets from liquid gas that will be imported from the United States. This is expected to increase plastic production by as much as 40% over the next ten years, which involves billions of extra turnover. This entirely outweighs the 1 billion earmarked for the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

The bright future of ever more plastic production and sales, is not to be threatened by public opinion nor by governments. That is why the industry has chosen projects that yield a better publicity image, but at the same time do not put the growing production at risk. The word ‘ reduction ‘ will nowhere to be found in the plans of the AEPW.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This initiative distracts the attention from what is really at issue, namely the absolute reduction of Single Use Plastic. The words of the industry sound beautiful, but are oh so hollow. Or shall I say, cheap.”


Also read – Investment industry causes tsunami of plastic

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The ultimate plastic diet to reduce your plastic footprint

Amsterdam, 17 January 2019 – We all consume too much plastic. Literally. There is plastic in the food we eat, the water we drink and even the air we breathe. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is that when plastic enters our body it can make us sick. The chemicals in plastic and plastic particles may cause cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, arthritis, impotency and even harm babies in the womb.

According to the EU, each year an average European citizen creates about 31 kgs. of single-use plastic waste. The current overconsumption of plastic must be reduced — not by banning all plastics, but by going on a ‘plastic diet’. We all need to go on a ‘plastic diet’: companies, retailers, governments, and individuals alike. For this reason, the Plastic Soup Foundation has developed the Ultimate Plastic Diet.

A sustainable alternative to plastic bags for fruits and vegetables.

The diet revolves around tackling the concerns about plastic affecting human health, avoiding leakage of plastic into the environment and aiming for absolute reduction of plastic production.

But, how does it work? We have divided the ‘plastic diet’ into six different areas: bathroom, kitchen, travel, leisure, household and garden. In each of these categories there are a list of avoidable plastics as well as an alternative to them. This diet is for everybody who wants to make a difference in their plastic consumption, from the absolute beginners to the eco-heads out there.

We understand that a strict plastic diet is very difficult and impractical to follow. Everyday plastics like those found in your car, your phone, or your laptop are unavoidable. This diet provides you with tools to make a difference, starting with reducing the single-use plastics in your daily life. We do not advise you to throw away the long-term use plastic items you have around your household because they can last for long; but we do advise you to always ask yourself one question whenever you want to buy something new: is there a plastic-free alternative for this?

That’s why we want to make this diet easy, by walking hand in hand with you to help you reduce your overall plastic footprint. One item at a time.

Are you ready to accept the challenge of a plastic-free diet?

The plastic soup is also a planetary boundary

Amsterdam, 16 January 2019 – The oceans are under pressure due to the increase of the plastic soup. Plastic affects not just individual animals, but also penetrates food chains. An important question is whether the plastic soup has a critical limit. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has indicated nine planetary boundaries for the Earth, among which climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and chemical pollution. When these planetary boundaries are exceeded, ecological restoration is almost impossible. Plastic pollution is not yet in this list.

Scientists have recently argued that plastic soup should also be one of the planetary boundaries. At least two of the three criteria for the planetary boundary of chemical pollution are also valid for the plastic soup: plastic in the environment is irreversible (it is not or hardly possible to clean up, particularly the microplastics) and plastic is present everywhere (and the concentration increases). The third criterion is the disruptive effect on marine ecosystems, or even wider: the effect on System Earth. To date, the question how the plastic soup affects this system, remains unanswered. To that end, it first needs to be determined how exactly this effect can be established. But, according to the researchers, plastic pollution certainly has all kinds of ecological consequences and hence there is every reason to believe that plastic also has or will have a negative effect on System Earth.

The researchers have also a pragmatic reason to include the plastic soup in the widely accepted framework of the planetary boundaries. It will then presumably be easier to reach agreement on the international approach; curbing the plastic soup internationally has not been successful yet.

These dolls are believed to pose a serious chemical-related risk to consumers

Amsterdam, January 15 2019 – This doll is dangerous. According to the European Commission’s consumer safety initiative, Safety Gate, it contains high levels of the chemical DEHP, which may harm children’s health by “causing possible damage to the reproductive system”. The risk level for this doll is categorized as serious —  DEHP, which acts as a plasticizer, is found in the doll’s head at 19% (by weight). It behaves as an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect childhood development and thyroid function in addition to the reproductive system.

It’s not just this doll. A scan of weekly reports of unsafe products generated by Safety Gate reveals a wide range of items, from clothing to face-paint to household appliances, that are considered unfit for consumption yet are readily available on the European market. To counter this, the Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Non-Food Products keeps a database on the thousands of harmful products within the EU; there have been 17,622 alerts across 31 countries since 2011 alone. Once an alert has been submitted, the European Commission facilitates the exchange of information between 31 countries, which often results in the unsafe product being recalled, discontinued, or stopped from entering the EU altogether.

Within this system, harmful goods are categorized according to their hazard type (i.e. fire, chemical, choking, injuries, suffocation), and level (“serious” and “other”). The database is updated on a weekly basis, and this information is disseminated to consumers through the initiative’s website and twitter account.

Have a look and see how many products you would possibly buy yourself;  these plastic dolls, for example (and this one, and this one…), are believed to pose a serious chemical-related risk to consumers. This classification is determined according to REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) criteria. There is a clear relationship between frequently used additives in plastic and human health. Stay informed!

Large donation by C&A Foundation for new educational materials on plastic soup

Amsterdam, 14 January 2019 – The 12-15 year-old age group is responsible for a relatively large amount of litter. Young children understand perfectly well that you should not drop plastic in the environment, but that changes when they become teenagers. Being environmentally aware does not mean you act that environmental awareness. Secondary school children are infamous for the trail of litter they leave behind from the sweet shop to school.

Thanks to two donations by the C&A Foundation, (amounting to almost €50,000) and sponsor campaigns by a number of secondary schools, the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) is able to develop special educational materials for this age group. This is being done in cooperation with Globe Nederland, an international network of schools and scientists that study the environment. The lessons handle the causes of, consequences of and possible solutions to plastic soup. The schoolchildren also do their own research into plastic soup, for example by quantifying and analyzing litter near their school.

The lessons for secondary school first and second year pupils is due to be available in the coming school year (2019-2020). This age group is sensitive to social media messages, which is why Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter will be used extensively.

Maria Westerbos, managing director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are especially pleased with the generous donations by the C&A Foundation and a number of schools. This enables us together with Globe Nederland to teach school children about plastic soup, motivate them to stop dropping litter in the environment and above all to reduce their use of plastics.”

 

Textile sector ignores problems of plastic microfibres

Amsterdam, 10 January 2018 – You do not see them, but the fibres from synthetic clothing are everywhere. They are in the water and float in the air. We breathe them in and they flutter down to the ground. A diptych in De Groene Amsterdammer last year not only made it clear that an ecological disaster is in the making, but also that nothing is being done to address this disaster.

Two conclusions were drawn by the journalist in the articles that appeared on 24 October and 5 December. One, the fashion industry may pat itself on the back on the subject of sustainability, but it is as still as a mouse on plastic microfibres. The problem of microfibres is given absolutely no priority in the industry. Two, the Government is not intervening and is leaving the initiatives to the market. Last summer, Minister Stientje van Veldhoven (D66) wrote [LINK] to The House of Representatives that “In collaboration with the textile sector, I will first explore the innovative solutions that they see that will prevent fibres from entering the water and will make further agreements about it”. In this case, she referred to the Platform Circulair Textiel (circular textile platform). The objective of this platform, which is made up of textile companies, is to further the circular economy in the clothing and textile sector. To this end, it published the Roadmap Circulair Textiel (in Dutch). Has the sector already thought about addressing the release of plastic microfibres when synthetic textiles are washed and dried? An estimated average of nine million fibres are lost in every five kilos of polyester washed, research published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution showed at the end of 2017. Despite the increasing amount of scientific research that point to the problems of plastic microfibres, the Platform Circulair Textiel is completely ignoring this environmental problem. In contrast, making thread from PET bottles is presented in the Roadmap as a positive example of circular design. As if textiles made of PET bottles have no undesirable loss of fibres.

The chance that the textile sector itself comes up with solutions, which the Minister would like, seems minimal. This is confirmed by a small-scale investigation commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation and done by students of the University of Amsterdam last autumn.

The sustainability managers of nine randomly chosen companies in the textile sector were interviewed. The interviews revolved around two core questions: “What do companies in the textile sector know about plastic microfibres?” and “Are the companies open for solutions?”

The first striking finding was that there is a major lack of knowledge. Of the companies interviewed, one third did not know about the problem of plastic microfibres. And that it is a great problem was not accepted “because customers never ask about it”. The companies also do not believe that the sector could be self-regulating. The only thing that would help is if the government passes regulations to which all the companies must adhere. The students also observed that there are no commercial stimuli for companies to solve the problem. The students aptly called their research Plastic microvezels. De Achilleshiel van de Circulaire Economie (plastic microfibres: the Achilles heel of the circular economy).

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Government and textile companies point at each other, and mostly turn away from this problem. This has to change fast. We started the Ocean Clean Wash campaign a few years ago and invite textile companies throughout the chain to join. At the beginning of February, we will make known new test results on questions such as the number of fibres some large brands’ clothing loses. We will also make some solutions widely known. I would like to see the Minister now to discuss these pioneering innovations.”

Also read – Waste2Wear hides the real problem: microfibres.

 

Lessons from the container spill disaster in the Wadden Sea

Amsterdam, 7 January 2019 — An unprecedently large cleanup effort has already been underway for several days in the Wadden Sea area after the mega-containership MSC Zoe lost 270 containers due to serious weather conditions; several of these containers were filled with poisonous organic peroxide. Beaches in the area are littered with the washed-up mess, which includes a large amount of plastic as well. The military has been called in to help, and the mayors of Schiermonnikoog and Vlieland will have the damage covered by the shipowner. The shipping company is ensured, but environmental damage can never be precisely determined, which makes securing compensation difficult. Can lessons from this environmental disaster already be drawn on how to prevent similar incidents from occurring the future?
The unclear status of  “good environmental health”
Next year, the “good environmental status” of the North Sea, a provision set forth by the Dutch government, must be reached. This means that the north sea must be clean, healthy, and productive. Is this goal achievable? The governmental policy is focused on the top 10 most commonly found items on beaches. Items such as lint, pieces of plastic and polystyrene foam, plastic bottle caps, plastic bottles, and balloons are being “tackled” by being put on the agenda, awareness raising, cleanups, and green deals. The Dutch government is working on this through voluntary compliance mechanisms, meaning there is no binding legislation or enforcement thereof. Preventing the dumping of containers, for example, is not part of their policy. The current goal to achieve a healthy environmental status should, therefore, be tightened up — but how?
Ban polystyrene as a packaging material
Materials that wash up on beaches can, for the most part, be cleaned up, albeit with a great deal of effort. The same is not true for polystyrene, which is commonly used as packaging material; cleanup is nearly impossible. Polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, blows away easily and crumbles into smaller and smaller pieces very rapidly. White polka dots of styrofoam will be found in the Wadden area for many years. The European Union has already forbidden several single-use plastic products, including food trays made from the infamous Styrofoam, but nothing has been done about Styrofoam in general as a packaging material. The Dutch government should make the case for a complete ban on styrofoam for packaging, either within a European context or without.
More stringent rules for container shipping
In January of 2017, a container containing thousands of plastic Kinder Surprise eggs washed onto the German Wadden Island Langeoog. Containers such as these fall overboard regularly. According to the research institute of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 10,000 containers end up in the ocean every year. The lost cargo is disseminated through sea currents and contributes to the plastic soup. It is therefore extremely necessary to impose more stringent regulations on transport containers: for example, a lower limit on the hight to which containers can be stacked would make a big difference. This can be arranged through the International Maritime Organizations (IMO) The problem of lost containers has been relevant for decades and urgently needs to be tackled. Is the Netherlands prepared to feature this issue prominently on the agenda for the upcoming London meeting of the IMO’s environmental commission, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC)? Let this disaster be the catalyst for solving the problem for container loss once and for all.
A quote from Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This major environmental disaster on the Wadden Sea must be translated into motivation for the Dutch government to implement additional measures and impose more stringent requirements on the transportation of containers, especially if they contain toxic substances.”
Photo: Municipality of Ameland

Winter Photo Contest 2018: Winners Announced

Amsterdam, 03 January 2019 – Towards the end of 2018, we conducted a photo contest and asked people to submit photographs that express their personal encounters with plastic pollution and what they made out of it. The response that we got was tremendous. Not only because so many people participated, but also because every participant had more than one picture to contribute. This shows the extent of plastic pollution that seeps into every nook and cranny of our surroundings.

Choosing the winners has been a very difficult decision because of the quality of the pictures as well as the enthusiasm of all the participants and their dedication to the cause was exceptional. Of all the pictures submitted, 3 powerful and creative images grabbed our attention. Below, we present you with the three winners of our photo contest and their story and motivation behind the pictures:

3. The Kid and the Fish, by Elza Zijlstra

 

“Since 4 years, I collect plastic from beaches worldwide and turn it into art. I mostly search for small pieces of plastic and was amazed to discover how every beach, even when it looks clean at first sight, is polluted. My art is mostly bright and does not force a message upon people. For this contest however, I wanted to show the relation between environment, food, fish and humans and show the magnitude of the problem. I think art is a powerful tool in the battle against plastic. During exhibitions I always notice that people are impressed that it is possible to fill a whole exhibition room with beach trash. And while watching the art of plastic soup, discussions about pollution start immediately.”

 

2. Black Water Dive, by Mae Dorricott

“This image was one I shot during a Black water dive in Indonesia. Black water diving is basically a night dive but over deep water, where you’re able to see the plankton and larvae of reef creatures come out of the darkness towards your torch lights like moths to a flame. The biodiversity of these waters are like no other, but just as abundant is the plastic. I thought it was a jellyfish at first as my torch glinted over it, yet alas, it was a fragment of plastic. With a young reef fish using it as shelter, darting this way and that.”

 

1. Manta Bay, by Brooke Pyke

“For quite a while now I have been spending a lot of time diving east of Bali, Indonesia on a small Island called Nusa Penida. I currently dive very regularly, 2 times a day 6 days a week. Over time you do see big changes in the ocean. From natural seasonal changes as you would expect but other changes as well. Marine debris such as plastic pollution has become a more and more common sight for us here in Penida and I know only too well that this is not even the tip of the ‘trash-burg’ so to say. With approx. 8 million tons of trash ending up in our oceans every year, the amount I see daily is only a small part. The enormity of plastic in the water can at times be so overwhelming and incredibly depressing. It makes you feel helpless as you try to scoop up as much as you can on the dive and fill your BCD pockets with the trash knowing you’re barely making any difference. Practically grabbing plastic bags and packaging, straws and water cups out of the way of the Mantas so they don’t swallow it. But this is just the big pieces. In regards to Manta Rays who are filter feeders the microplastics are really the problem here which are often so small you can’t even see them. The plastic trash we see around the islands here is not an all year round issue but it certainly is becoming worse every year.

There was a dive this year I had at Manta bay (when i took these photos) and the amount of trash was immense. From anything like plastic take away cutlery, to tampons, nappies, laundry liquid packaging… you name it I saw it. I had some guests diving with me at the time and I was actually embarrassed. It’s like taking a good hard look in the mirror and seeing just what we are doing to this planet. Coming up from the dive my guests instantly were looking for someone to blame and asking why is no one doing anything about it. It’s so easy to blame the governments, manufacturers and companies selling these products who of course have some responsibility. I feel we should also start looking more at ourselves and what ways do we contribute to this problem.

Going back to the topic of ‘microplastics’ which is a huge issue here when you think of filter feeding marine megafauna such as Mantas. As you can imagine an animal that has to filter thousands of litres of water per day to obtain adequate nutrition. Micro plastics harbor high levels of toxins and chemical pollutants which are introduced to their body via digestion. These toxin accumulate over time and can cause disruption of biological processes and can even be passed from mother to offspring.”

WASTE2WEAR HIDES THE REAL PROBLEM: MICROFIBRES

Amsterdam, 18 December 2018 – The company Waste2Wear produces brand clothing made from PET bottles. 30% of those plastic bottles are retrieved from the ocean. Several clothing brands joined this initiative, brands such as Promiss, Claudia Sträter, Wehkamp, Steps, Oilly, Joolz and Expresso. Together with these companies, Waste2Wear’s Ocean Plastic Project processes two million bottles into 100,000 fashion items for the winter of 2018. Waste2Wear may seem to be a sympathetic idea: “We work together on solutions and say NO against Ocean Pollution.”

However, there is one big problem. The wear and washing of synthetic clothing generates millions of microfibers. A 2016 study of the European Mermaids Life+, published in Environmental Pollution, showed that on average 9 million of microfibers are released during the laundry cycle of 5 kilos of synthetic clothing. And these fibers are so tiny that they can found everywhere, in the air, in house dust and in
the water. These microfibers become part of the food chain and enter our bodies. This causes researchers great concern.

Does Waste2Wear try to save to world by removing plastic bottles from the ocean and recycling them into new clothing? Or is Waste2Wear part of the plastic soup problem? As this company’s clothing produces
microfibers?

On their website Waste2Wear discusses the microfiber problem. Waste2Wear recognizes in their FAQs that microfiber pollution is a major and growing concern for the textile and clothing industry. And there is a long way to go before this problem is solved. However, they continue to state that recycled plastics produce 55% less microfibers than the normal polyester. These numbers supposed to originate from a Swedish study. The first results of this research are “very positive for recycled plastic.”

This is where Waste2Wear misleads the readers. The quoted study from 2017, does not mention this number of 55% anywhere. Furthermore, the research never draws the conclusion that it is better to use recycled plastics. The study does state that it cannot support the, often made, assumption that textiles made from recycled polymers generate more microfibers than clothing made from “new”
plastics.

The same authors published in Sustainability, the article “Microplastics Shedding from Textiles” in 2018. This article does not support the Waste2Wear claim either. On the contrary: “The results show little difference in [shedding] between virgin and recycled content in the fabric.”

Waste2Wear says NO against Ocean Pollution, but the painful truth is that Waste2Wear is part of the plastic soup problem.

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“Do not reuse supermarket water bottles”

Amsterdam, 20 December 2018– Australian researchers recommend not to reuse plastic bottles, that, filled with water, are sold in supermarkets,

Professor Anas Ghadouani and his team at the University of Western Australia in Perth have tested metal and plastic water bottles. The immediate cause was that more and more people refill purchased bottles with tap water for environmental reasons; it means that you do not need to buy a bottle again and again. But how harmful is this refilling plastic bottles for your health?

According to Ghadouani glass and metal bottles are safest, especially bottles made from stainless steel. They are followed by the plastic bottles that are specially made to be reused, such as for instance a Dopper. The professor says that in general it is wise not to do this longer than one year.

Refilling PET bottles is nothing short of the worst option, as there will always be plastic particles in the water. Especially when you place such a bottle in the sun, many microplastics are released.

Read the university’s  press release.


Also read: Microplastics in bottled water