Are you ready to #RefuseSingleUse for planet Earth? 

For this year’s Earth Day, April 22, Plastic Soup Foundation is collaborating with cosmetic brand LUSH to ask consumers in the Netherlands and Belgium to #RefuseSingleUse plastic items once and for all.

Why, you may ask? Because “If we continue with our plastic habits, the oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050.” (Ellen McArthur Foundation)

Plastic bottles, bags and straws. They take 5 seconds to be made. They are used for 5 minutes. And they take more than 500 years to disappear. They basically don’t disappear at all, they break down into ever smaller pieces, eaten by plankton and up the food chain. Guess who is at the top of it? Us!

With the campaign “Dit vluggertje komt ons duur te staan” (“This quickie will cost us”) we ask people to publicly pledge to stop using one, two or three of these top-3 most found single-use items for 30 days. The affair might be brief, but the consequences are forever.

Take the 30-day pledge and challenge three friends to do the same. Will you join? Go to our landingpage to take the pledge and challenge your friends to do the same!

 

Albatross, the film: ode to a victim of the plastic soup

Amsterdam, 18 April 2018 – Half-way through the film, the image suddenly stops. A close-up of an albatross feeding its chick. The albatross parent regurgitates food and slips it into the throat of the hungry chick. The image stops at the point that a blue piece of plastic glides into the chick’s throat. The American photographer and film-maker, Chris Jordan, has worked on Albatross – a love story for our time from the heart of the Pacific for years. The film is about the largest colony of albatrosses in the world on Midway, a remote archipelago in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, and the devastation that the plastic soup is bringing to this colony.

In 2008, Chris Jordan visited Midway for the first time. He photographed the bodies of chicks full of plastic. The body of a chick degrades, but the pieces of plastic that it contains do not. They remain behind in clumps on the island. His photos are well-known around the world and shook the world at the time. Jordan returned to Midway a few times and decided to make a film about the drama that was taking place. He used the best cameras and sound equipment there is.

Albatrosses are not afraid of humans and Jordan could get very close to them by crawling towards them slowly. His images touch everyone. On the one hand, the graceful movements of these impressive birds, and on the other hand the inability of the albatross to mistake plastic for food. Before the young albatross leave land and take to the sea, they need to empty their stomachs of excess weight. The birds that are unable to expel the plastic are doomed.

The film is highly emotional, and this is exactly the intention of the film-maker. By identifying with the albatross, people start to understand the consequences of our plastic consumption society. Albatross is special in another way too. Jordan is making the film available free of charge. There is just one condition – whoever shows the film, be it in a cinema or at home, may not charge anyone to see it. He himself does not want to earn any money from the misery that we humans are causing and does not want anyone else to do so. Via this link you can request a copy of the Albatross movie for a screening.

As of June 8th, the film will be available for a free permanent download at albatrossthefilm.com where you can now watch the trailer. The Plastic Soup Foundation recently showed the film at the Amsterdam arts cinema Lab111 to an invited audience in the presence of Chris Jordan.


Also read: Problem of ghost nets larger than imagined

PSF’s Input on the International Approach to Plastic Soup

Amsterdam, April 11, 2018 – During the third meeting of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) last December in Nairobi, a special working group was established. The so-called Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working Group must draw up recommendations for how international regulations can be used to combat plastic and microplastic pollution. The working group will come together for the first time in May and has asked for input from relevant Organisations — the Plastic Soup Foundation is one of them. The PSF has answered the two questions below.

Your view on major barriers to combatting marine litter and microplastics

  • One major barrier is the lack of an international treaty or protocol to specifically address marine litter within the framework of the United Nations. Such an international treaty should aim to reduce plastic production worldwide with a special focus on single use plastics. Hereby it should not focus on marine litter as such, but on the causes of marine litter.
  • Another barrier is that currently, plastics are not viewed as a hazardous substance when uncontrolled in the environment.
  • Currently, international agreements on combatting marine litter can be characterised as soft law. However, recognising the magnitude of this environmental problem, any international agreement should be binding.
  • Finally, there is no international mechanism that prevents investments in new plastic production facilities, with the alarming result that there will be overproduction of new virgin plastics, making them cheaper and more abundant than ever before.

Your view on potential national, regional and international response options and associated environmental, social and economic costs

  • Member States should be made responsible for their land-based contribution of plastics into the open seas, since rivers are the main source of marine litter. Clear reduction targets should be set, which can also be realised in a regional setting.
  • Furthermore, global trade in plastic waste should be restricted.
  • The international community should assist any country asking for support with implementing regulations to mitigate plastic pollution.
  • Environmental costs should be systematically integrated in the price of any plastic product.
  • Among the response options we like to mention a universal ban on (intentionally added) microplastics in consumer products, such as cosmetics.
  • Single-use plastics should be avoided as much as possible, like the light weight plastic bags (cf. The Montreal Protocol mechanism).
  • The most problematic plastics should be phased out, being the plastics that cannot be recycled and are too toxic because of additives used.
  • There should be an international mechanism to regulate the investments in new plastic production facilities.
  • The responsibility of producers should be extended for the end-of-pipeline phase of their products, for instance by imposing deposit-schemes.
  • Finally, a fund for research and development should be established targeting the most problematic sources of plastic pollution, like the release of microfibers from synthetic textiles when washing.

The Plastic Soup Foundation has been accredited by UNEP (formerly the UN Environmental Program, now called UN Environment) since 2016. Thanks to its observer status with UNE, the PSF is able to have its voice be heard directly.

Food waste and plastic waste go hand in hand

Amsterdam, 10 April 2018 – A non-packaged tomato lasts a week, but if wrapped in plastic, it lasts twice as long. A cucumber lasts even three times as long thanks to its plastic covering. Is this why so much food is packaged in plastic? A report published today points to a major paradox. Unwrapped: How throwaway plastic is failing to solve Europe’s food waste problem (and what we need to do instead) shows that since single-use plastic packaging was introduced in the 1950s, not only has the amount of plastic waste increased, but also the amount of food waste. The two are growing in parallel while you would expect that the longer shelf-life of fresh foods would reduce food waste.

Marine garbage patches and food waste are two of the greatest social problems. The figures are unimaginable. Every European throws away 30 kilos of plastic waste and 70 kilos of food every year. Between 2004 and 2014, European households’ food waste doubled while discarded plastic packaging grew by 50% during this period. The economic value of wasted food in Europe in 2015 alone was estimated at 143 billion euros. Forecasts show that in 2020 in Europe, more than 900 billion packaged products (food and drink) will be sold.

Industry and retailers use food waste as a reason to wrap food in plastic. But in reality, the advantage is limited and there are other factors that explain the shelf life of food. Whether food is thrown away or not is not directly related to its longer shelf life. Food waste because of plastic rarely weighs up against the disadvantages of plastic in the environment. Producers mostly use plastic packaging to advertise their products, to transport food across long distances and to decide how much customers should buy at one go (just think about the number of fruit in a plastic net).

The report, compiled by Friends of the Earth, Zero Waste Europe and Rethink Plastic, pushes for a Europe wide approach that will drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste and food waste. Products do not always need to be packaged and the amount of plastic packaging can be greatly reduced. Unless it cannot be avoided, producers and retailers should always opt for packaging that can be reused.

And consumers? Wherever possible, they should always choose for no packaging.


Also read: Favourable outlook for natural branding and England introduces deposit system with coca colas support

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Plastic Soup Atlas of the World will be released end of April

Amsterdam, April 9, 2018 — There are new reports about the plastic soup issue every day in scientific journals, on TV, and in the newspapers. But what exactly is the plastic soup? Through 60 topics, the Plastic Soup Atlas of the World highlights this global environmental problem. The first 30 topics of the encyclopedic Atlas discuss causes and consequences, and explain how the plastic soup got “put on the map”. The second set of 30 topics concern what should be done to get the plastic soup “off the map” again.

Michiel Roscam Abbing, who works at the Plastic Soup Foundation and is the author of the book: “I expect this book to meet a great demand. Different aspects of the plastic soup are placed in perspective, which is done by examining the issue through the lens of recent scientific insights, gripping photos, and infographics. Through embracing plastics, humans have invoked a particularly complicated and far-reaching environmental problem that has manifested itself differently everywhere. I hope that the Atlas encourages readers to think and act.”

The beautifully designed book — in atlas format — is a collaborative project between the Plastic Soup Foundation and the LIAS publishing house in Hilversum. Starting from the end of April, the Atlas is for sale for €29.95; there are English and Dutch versions available, both for the same price. 5 euros of each copy sold go to the Plastic Soup Foundation. 

The Plastic Soup Atlas of the World is on sale through the webshop of the PSF, starting today. 

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England introduces deposit system with Coca-Cola’s support

Amsterdam, 6 April 2018 –British Environment Minister Michael Gove has announced that England will introduce a deposit system on all single-use drinks packaging during this term of government. This includes packaging made from plastic, metal and glass. Later this year a consultation session will be held, but a deposit system will definitely be introduced. Read the official press release by the government.

An estimated 13 billion drinks in single-use packaging are sold in the United Kingdom every year. Only a limited number are recycled and much ends up in the environment. The announcement only applies to England. Scotland and Wales announced recently that they would also introduce deposit systems. Minister Gove called deposit systems “a game changer” in the fight against plastic soup.

Unlike the Netherlands, the United Kingdom does not have any form of deposit system yet and a whole new infrastructure has to be set up with machines to collect deposit bottles.

Coca-Cola long resisted fiercely against the introduction of a deposit system, just as it did in other countries. But now the multinational is fully embracing its introduction and even calls the decision a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”.

Julian Hunt, vice president of Coca-Cola in Europe, told Sky News that he was “really pleased” to hear the plans. He supports the deposit system as a solution to the increasing concerns about plastic. “We see that current methods collect 60 to 70%, but that is not good enough”. He wants to see cooperation with the British government, but also wants to see a single system introduced into the United Kingdom to keeps costs down for businesses and to prevent confusion among consumers.

Maria Westerbos Plastic Soup Foundation director: “This is particularly good news. But the million-dollar question is why Coca-Cola Netherlands hasn’t adopted the same rhetoric as Coca-Cola Europe and openly embraced the expansion of the Dutch deposit system to include small bottles and tins. How much longer do we have to wait?”

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Microplastics in bottled water

Amsterdam, 4 April 2018 – Last September, Orb Media, an American research journalism organization, published a report about the worldwide microplastics pollution in drinking water. For this research 159 samples from across the globe were examined and over 80% of them proved to be contaminated.

Now the organization speaks out again. This time it was not tap water Orb had examined, but bottled water. No less than 250 1-liter bottles from prominent brands, bought in nine different countries, were examined by the State University of New York. An average of 10 particles were found per bottle. The research has not yet been published in a scientific magazine.

Despite the fact that the bottlers of water satisfy strict quality and safety requirements, it is apparently inevitable for plastic particles to end up in the water. Only unscrewing the cap from the bottle causes a friction that already releases particles into the water.

Head of research Professor Sherri Mason is not looking to point fingers at the examined brands with the rapport, but says, as quoted by the BBC, that: “it’s really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society”.

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Poor air quality caused by microplastics

Amsterdam, 30 March 2018 – The Netherlands does not meet agreed standards for air quality in all its cities. The Dutch cabinet wants to change this and anyone who wants to can submit their views on government proposals to improve air quality.

Surprisingly microplastics are not mentioned once in the draft bill “Amendments to the National Air Quality Cooperation Program”. Perhaps they are counted as particles or perhaps they have been left out altogether. The fact of the matter is that the air is full of microplastics, and concentrations are increasing because plastic is not biodegradable.

In the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail recently carried out a study into packaged and non-packaged fish in London supermarkets. The fish were tested for the presence of microplastics in a laboratory at the University of Portsmouth. Dozens of microplastics, which had come from the air, were found on the pieces of fish. Substantially more microplastics were found on fish that had not been packaged, and had therefore been exposed to the air for longer.

The Daily Mail quoted Professor Frank Kelly, a specialist affiliated to King’s College in London. In 2016, he stated the following to a parliamentary hearing: “If you can breathe them [microplastics] in, they could potentially deliver chemicals to lower parts of our lungs, maybe even across into our circulation in the same way we worry about vehicle emissions.” Professor Kelly, himself, had taken measurements of particles in the air at King’s College: “We have been particularly struck by the high levels of clothing fibers in the atmosphere.”

Another expert, Dr. Welden, was also quoted by the Daily Mail: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not building up in the air in the same way as in the oceans. They will be fragmenting and still not going away”.

Since airborne microplastics have not yet been named as a cause of poor air quality, all kinds of possible measures fail to be taken into account. In particular, a lot could be achieved by tackling the loss of fibers from synthetic clothing and materials.


Read more: How damaging is breathing in microplastics.

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“Alternatives for BPA are equally harmful” 

Amsterdam, 30 March 2018 – The plastics industry is a massive user of bisphenol A (BPA). This is a chemical compound that is used in many plastic products such as plastic bottles, electronics, receipts and toys. As BPA affects the hormone balance and can cause infertility, in 2016 the Dutch government decreed that exposure to BPA must be reduced. The government also announced that it would make efforts to ensure that producers develop safer alternatives.

We are now two years down the line and the question arises what the producers have been doing.

In 2016, the European Union classified BPA as a toxic substance and put it on the European Chemicals Agency’s list of substances of very high concern. This was a unanimous decision by scientists of all member states. This was the reason for PlasticsEurope, the lobby organisation representing the European plastics industry, to challenge the European Union in court to remove BPA from the list. They claimed that measure would be ‘fundamentally disproportionate’, and this, speculates an EUobserver message, is a delaying tactic. While the issue is being battled in court, BPA can stay on the market and the alternatives will not be used.

In the meantime, alternatives have been launched on the market. Many consumers have become used to labels praising products as ‘BPA free’. However, producers appear to mostly use alternatives that strongly resemble BPA. These are mostly bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol HPF (BHPF). Chem Trust, whose mission is to protect humans and animals from harmful chemicals, has surveyed the uses and has issued a report containing alarming findings. Among these are that:

  • as alternative bisphenols belong to the same chemical group, it can be expected that they can be equally harmful to health as BPA; and,
  • BPA is found in the blood and urine of almost everybody that has been tested. This is now the case with alternative bisphenols too.
  • In an effort to reduce the use of substances deemed hazardous, the European legislation would be totally ineffective if it would not also apply to alternative bisphenols.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “It is high time that not only the Dutch Government, but also the European Union sends a strong signal to the industry that it is entirely unacceptable to exchange one problematic substance with another, and to mislead the public into thinking that the products are then safe. Let alone that the industry even dares go to court. It shows a distinct lack of conscience.”

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Problem of ghost nets larger than imagined

Amsterdam, March 29, 2018 – The research team from The Ocean CleanUp has published their report on the amount of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not only is there much more than initially believed, but it is also accumulating rapidly. Almost half of the weight (more than 46%) appears to consist of abandoned fishing nets, which is not difficult to imagine; large floating ghost nets are several times heavier than individual pieces of floating plastic, and they are made for fishing in the sea.

It is well known that ghost nets and other abandoned fishing gear, such as buoys, contribute significantly to the plastic soup and turn millions of sea creatures into victims. What are large fishing companies doing to prevent their nets from being left behind? World Animal Protection has assessed the fifteen largest fishing companies in the world on this topic and has recently published a report on the findings. The results are shocking. None of the mega-fishing companies researched include the problem of ghost nets in their agenda, and they are certainly not taking action to prevent their nets from ending up in the ocean. Just one company acknowledges the existence of the problem at all; none of the companies report about it.

As long as there is no effective international control system, ships will continue to dump their nets with impunity.


Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick