Plastic-free airports and flights in Dubai

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

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

Plastic-free flights

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 Now, single-use plastics have been replaced by more sustainable alternatives on all their flights.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

Hopefully, Schiphol and KLM will follow suit.

Photo: Mirpuri Foundation

Cheap plastic toys can be dangerous for children

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

European safety requirements must be tightened up

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

False CE mark

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

The safety system is not watertight

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

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

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

Labels should be made compulsory for toys

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

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

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

 

Read also – ‘Toxic soup’ Dioxins in plastic toys

Read more – Protection against toxic chemicals in plastic fails

Baby napkins and sanitary napkins contribute a lot to the plastic soup

Amsterdam, 28 November 2019 – Sanitary towels, baby diapers, and wet wipes: they are largely made of plastic. These products are thrown away after use and hardly collected for recycling. Their market share is much larger than that of the reusable plastic-free alternative. For the first time, the impact of these products on the environment for Europe has been mapped out.

Huge numbers

According to the report written by ReZero, the figures for the European Union are frightening:

49 billion single-use menstrual products (sanitary pads and tampons), equivalent to 590,000 tonnes of waste.
33 billion baby diapers, which is 6,731,000 tons of waste.
68 billion wet wipes, this is about 511,000 tons of waste.
The waste is not only an environmental problem but also production and transport have their impact. Think of the use of water during the production process, the use of energy and raw materials. The report also points to the high costs of waste processing for municipalities.

Flushed down the toilet

These products are often flushed down the toilet. Of course, this is not the intention, but it happens. If the sewer is overloaded after heavy rainfall, some of the water is discharged directly into the surface water, including all the waste. For example, the sanitary pads and diapers end up in surface water via the sewer system. These products are among the ten most commonly found items on beaches. On British beaches, they make up for 6.2% of all recorded waste items. If they fall apart in the sea, it is in countless small pieces of plastic that can never be cleaned up again.

More environmentally friendly and cheaper

Fortunately, there are alternatives widely available. Cotton diapers are washable and therefore reusable. The report calculates that major financial savings are possible, not only in the use of materials, waste and CO2 savings but also, and above all, for one’s own wallet. To give an example: if 20% of women opted for menstrual cups, this would save 100,000 tonnes of waste per year in the European Union and they would be much cheaper.

Illustration: From the cover of the report

,

New Dutch Plastic Catcher From Noria

Amsterdam, 14 November 2019 – Noria has developed a system that creates plastic from the water with a wheel. It was tested this autumn together with the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management at the weir and lock complex in Borgharen and is working satisfactorily. Inventor Rinze de Vries and co-founder Arnoud van der Vaart expect to have the first specimen operational in the Netherlands in six months’ time.

How does the system work?

The strength lies in its simplicity. Running water sets a paddle wheel in motion. This wheel has five blades that remove plastic from the upper part of the water column. The device operates autonomously on water power and has as few moving parts as possible. Therefore, little or no maintenance is required. In waterways, it can be placed in areas where a lot of plastic accumulates. Shipping and fish are not affected.

Four Dutch inventions

Strikingly enough, the Noria system is one of as many as four Dutch inventions that are now operational or are about to become operational. The Ocean Cleanup Interceptor was presented at the end of October. This system, developed by the young Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, is aimed at maximum capture of floating plastic in heavily polluted rivers. The Noria system can also be used for this purpose but is also suitable for narrow waterways such as streams and canals.
A third Dutch invention to capture plastic is The Great Bubble Barrier. In this case, a screen of air bubbles stops plastic carried along with the current in the entire water column and directs it to the shore. Amsterdam has the first Bubble Barrier that was officially opened earlier this month.
In a fourth invention, the Shoreliner, floating plastic is led to a trap in the water. This is emptied periodically.

A different system for each location

It is a good thing that there is a choice of different collection systems because it will depend mainly on local circumstances which system can best be used where. The next step is to analyze the collected plastic. For example, it became clear from censuses that every two months at the one place where the Shoreliner was located in the port of Rotterdam alone, approximately 250,000 nurdles, the raw material for plastic products, were captured.

Read more about Noria here

Photo: Noria sustainable innovators.


Read also – Shoreliner ideal for analyzing floating plastic waste

Read also – Ocean cleanup goes on the river

Read also – At least 24 million nurdles washed ashore at Dutch coasts

Blood tests in petrels show unknown effects on plastic pollution

Amsterdam, 05 November 2019 – Australian researchers have looked at the effect of plastic on seabirds. It has long been known that seabirds ingest plastic that causes blockages or suppresses the feeling of hunger. But are there other factors involved? A recent publication analyses, among other things, the effect of plastic on the blood levels of young seabirds.

Hidden effects

The ingestion of plastic has some very clear and direct consequences for seabirds. For example, plastic can cause digestive blockages and malnutrition. Often a relation is made between the size and mass of the animal and plastics found in the stomach. However, there are also factors of importance that are less visible. Plastics can release toxic chemicals and microplastics can have a negative effect on the digestion of food because they lead to higher concentrations of uric acid, among other things.

Underestimate

As these factors are more difficult to measure, the negative effects of plastic are probably underestimated. Analyzing blood values offers a solution to this problem. The new research focuses specifically on the Australian Shearwater, a seabird that spends a lot of time at sea. The same researchers reported earlier that this species receives the most plastic of all vertebrates in and at sea.

Blood tests

The new research shows clear links between the amount of plastic and some blood levels of the young petrels. More plastic appears to be associated with a lower level of calcium in the blood. This may indicate, among other things, lower fat reserves, reduced absorption of nutrients, thyroid problems and pancreatitis. In addition, the research points to increased values for cholesterol, the amylase enzyme, and uric acid, related to malnutrition, long-term stress, and kidney failure. Finally, it appears that birds with plastic in their stomachs have a significantly lower weight and are smaller in size. The researchers emphasize that these blood levels and the effects are part of a complex system, in which general living conditions also play a role.

More complete picture

The new study provides insight into the hitherto ‘hidden’ effects of plastic intake by seabirds. The researchers argue that the less visible effects of plastic pollution should also be shown.

Read more – Plastic chemicals in petrel eggs

Prohibit plastics? Use the term ‘essential use’!

Amsterdam, 04 November 2019 – How do you distinguish between useful and harmful plastics? Scientists refer to the concept of ‘essential use’, which is used in the Montreal Protocol. They applied it to PFAS, a group of substances classified as very worrying. The same principle can also be useful to approach plastics.

The Montreal Protocol and essential use

One of the most successful international environmental agreements ever is the 1987 Montreal Protocol. This agreement provides for the cessation of the use of hydrofluorocarbons suspected of affecting the ozone layer. However, some hydrofluorocarbons are considered ‘essential’ for our health, safety or for the better functioning of our society. They will not be banned unless there is a safe alternative. Therefore, the Montreal Protocol’s assessment yardstick consists of three categories: substances can be non-essential, substitutable or essential. See the recent article advocating this approach for PFAS.

Essential use and microplastics in personal care products

When we apply this measure to microplastics in care products, we immediately see that this use is not essential. The microplastics do not contribute to better health, more safety or a better functioning of society. Alternatives are also available. But manufacturers still use them for marketing or financial reasons, because microplastics are cheap. Since the microplastics used in care products are harmful to the environment, they should be internationally qualified as non-essential and then banned worldwide.

Essential use and medical applications

But how do you judge a plastic prosthesis? Nobody would want to ban it. The same assessment framework can explain such plastics as ‘essential’. This is the case when a certain application contributes to our health and safety and no alternative materials are available yet.

Of course, this assessment framework offers scope for discussion. After all, who decides, for example, how the criterion ‘better for society’ is to be fulfilled? But in the end, this discussion does provide the answers we are looking for and the instruments to effectively combat plastic pollution.

Read more – ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics

Shady destinations of collected plastic waste

Amsterdam, 29 October 2019 – Some of the plastic waste that citizens separate for recycling ends up in countries such as Malaysia or can end up – even within the EU – in illegal landfills. There is hardly any recycling. Since China closed its doors to the import of plastic waste in 2018, the problems of reuse are piling up. The main reasons for this are: the quantity of plastic waste continues to increase, there is too little recycling capacity and there is no control over trade.

What happens to the collected plastic?

In the Netherlands, we produce around 73.2 kilos of plastic waste per person per year. The separated plastic is collected and ends up in a sorting company. New plastic products are made from some of them. According to the TV broadcast Plastic Plague by De Monitor, an estimated 38% falls into the residual ‘mix’ category. That part is traded, partly abroad, and other companies can still extract some valuable components from it. But what happens to the part that nobody can use? This cannot be controlled. Earlier this year, research agency CE Delft published the report Plastic Use and Processing of Plastic Waste in the Netherlands and concluded: ‘Until recently, separately collected plastic was exported to China. This plastic that was offered for recycling is counted as recycled in the waste statistics by the Packaging Waste Fund. It is unclear whether these packagings have actually been recycled and under what conditions’.

Revealing documentaries

After China closed its doors, trade flows shifted to other Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia is flooded with containers full of plastic waste under the guise of recycling. De Monitor reported that the country is investigating the origin of seven illegal containers of suspected Dutch plastic waste. Another revealing documentary, by Vox Pop, talks about 1660 illegal Polish landfills of mainly German plastic waste. The number of illegal landfills is also increasing in countries like France and Italy, because there is no processing capacity and because the waste can no longer be exported.

Health damage

In order to get rid of the illegally dumped plastic, the landfills are regularly set on fire. The perpetrators are unknown. The local population suffers as a result of the hazardous substances released. The health risks of burning plastics were demonstrated by Susan Shaw at the Plastic Health Summit earlier this month.

Photo: Malaysian environment minister Yeo Bee Yin is standing next to a container of western plastic waste. EPA-EFE.

Read alsoDo we get sick from burnt plastic?

Ocean Cleanup goes to the rivers

Amsterdam, 28 October 2019 – Boyan Slat is going to expand his field of activity. On 26 October he presented The Interceptor to the world, an installation that is to remove floating plastic from rivers in order to prevent it from ending up in the ocean. Ocean Cleanup has been working on this self-operating capture system, which can capture 50,000 kilos a day, for the past four years. It is designed to be produced in large numbers. The first two are already operational.

Presentation of The Interceptor

Ocean Cleanup calculated that 80% of all plastic rubbish in the oceans is transported by a thousand rivers. It is obviously important to capture that plastic before it reaches the ocean. The goal of Ocean Cleanup is to have Interceptors at work in these thousand most polluted rivers by 2025. Inventor and entrepreneur Boyan Slat explained his latest project in his presentation.

No new idea

The Trash Wheel has been in Baltimore’s harbor for years, a clever system that takes the rubbish out of the water. The Interceptor is a modernized version of it. The idea is the same: there is a floating arm that guides plastic to a conveyor belt that comes out of the water at an angle. At the end of the conveyor belt, the rubbish is collected in a container. The bin is brought ashore to be processed. Both systems use running water and solar energy, both do not interfere with shipping and are not harmful to fish.

A fine example of engineering work

At The Interceptor, everything is designed not only to collect waste as efficiently as possible but also to be able to install the system in as many places as possible. Thanks to automatic notifications, the local operator knows when the bins are full and need to be emptied. Since the collection capacity is around 50 cubic meters, these are efficient collection cycles. Local authorities will no doubt look with great interest at the results of the prototype (in Jakarta, Indonesia) and that of the second one, which works in one of the world’s most polluted rivers (the Klang in Malaysia). More details about The Interceptor can be found on the Ocean Cleanup site.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘We congratulate Boyan Slat and his team with this revolutionary design. At the same time, we would like to point out that the ultimate solution for the plastic soup is not the efficient capture of plastic, but a much lower use and less production of plastic’.

Brand Audit 2019′ identifies ten of the world’s largest plastic polluters

Amsterdam, 25 October 2019 – Coca-Cola once again proves to be the world’s largest plastic polluter. Just like in 2018, World Cleanup Day not only cleaned up but also recorded which brands were found in the streets. Brand audits were carried out by over 72,000 volunteers in 51 countries. In total, almost 500,000 pieces of plastic waste were disposed of. In 43% of the cases, it was possible to determine which company had produced which packaging. For Coca-Cola, this was 11,732 items in 37 countries.

Brand Audit compared to 2018

In 2019, seven times as many volunteers participated in brand tally and the number of cleanups/brand audits increased from 239 to 484. This makes the data for 2019 a lot more robust. The top three appear to consist of the same multinationals as in 2018: Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo. The analysis method in 2019 differed slightly from the previous year. This year, not only the most polluting companies were shown, but the number of countries in which the items were found has also been taken into account for the ranking. The top ten consists of:

– 1 Coca-Cola (2018: 1)
– 2 Nestlé (2018: 3)
– 3 PepsiCo (2018: 2)
– 4 Mondelez International (2018: 5)
– 5 Unilever (2018: 7)
– 6 Mars (2018: 9)
– 7 Procter &Gamble (2018: 6)
– 8 Colgate-Palmolive (2018: 10)
– 9 Phillip Morris (2018, not mentioned)
– 10 Perfetti Van Melle (2018: 8)

Danone, in 2018 at number 4, is no longer mentioned in 2019.

The Brand Audit 2019 was published by Greenpeace Philippines and was organized by Break Free From Plastic. In the Netherlands, World Cleanup Day was organized by the Plastic Soup Foundation on 21 September. The Dutch results have been incorporated into the report. The top six most found brands in the Netherlands are:


Citizen Science

The analysis is a fine example of citizen science. Thanks to the size of the brand audits, we have reliable data at our disposal. Countries in the south of the world (the global south) are often accused of making a disproportionately large contribution to the plastic soup. The data from the Brand Audit show that it is mainly multinationals with headquarters in Europe or the United States that sell products in single-use plastic packaging in those countries. Unilever is number 5 worldwide but is not in the top 6 in the Netherlands. This is because the company mainly markets mini-packaging in the global south. The business model is based on cheap plastic, with no collection and processing costs. The multinationals do not pay for the environmental damage.

Calling on multinationals

Multinational companies must take full responsibility for the consequences of the packaging in which their products are sold. In October 2018, after the first Brand Audit, the Break Free From Plastic movement called on multinationals to embrace six principles. The call was co-signed by the Plastic Soup Foundation. The data from the Brand Audit 2019 show that the need to respond to this call is more urgent than ever:

  • Embrace a verifiable drastic reduction in the use of single-use plastic packaging
  •  Design other ways to get the products to the consumer, such as packaging that can be used more often or that can be refilled
  • Do not market products containing microplastics or releasing microfibres
  • Cooperate with other parties and accept regulations aimed at combating the plastic soup
  • Do not rely on so-called false solutions that enable the continuation of the existing business model
  • Avoid using alternative materials that in turn have adverse effects.

Graham Forbes, Greenpeace USA, and Global Project Leader: ‘We will only see real change when companies like Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo end their reliance on fossil fuel-based plastic and throwaway packaging’.

Read moreCoca-Cola is the largest plastic polluter

Read moreCoca-Cola Europe explicitly embraces deposits

Read moreUnilever turns off the plastic valve a little bit

,

Does plastic make us sick? Contact with microplastics may lead to immune cell death.

Amsterdam, October 25, 2019 – When immune cells attack microplastics, the immune cells die. Nienke Vrisekoop, assistant professor at UMC (University Medical Center) Utrecht, investigated the response of human immune cells to microplastics of various sizes. She presented the first results of her research at the Plastic Health Summit held in Amsterdam earlier this month. Her research is one of the fifteen short-term research projects on plastic and human health that have been made possible by grants from ZonMw.

More research is needed

We come into contact with microplastics on a daily basis and they enter our bodies in a variety of ways. It is likely that the smallest microplastics (up to 20 micrometers – the size of a cell) end up in mammalian bodies. The important question is whether these tiny plastic particles can cause damage once they enter our bodies. In 2017, research on mice demonstrated that microplastics can accumulate in certain organs such as the liver, kidneys, and intestines.

What does this mean for human health?

Vrisekoop’s research focused on how the human immune system reacts to foreign microplastics. She used human immune cells from blood and added fluorescent microplastics of different sizes (1μm and 10μm) to a petri dish, with or without a coating. The coating consisted of blood components that bind to the plastic.

Two striking results

The experiment yielded two striking results. The first result was that clean microplastics (without a coating) were left untouched by the immune cells, while those with a coating were attacked. The attacked microplastics were encapsulated by the immune cells, which is what also happens to bacteria. It was significant that the immune cells which engulfed the microplastics died in the following hours and days, while the encapsulated microplastics themselves did not change. The second result was that the smaller microplastics (those 1μm in size) were all encapsulated, regardless of whether or not they had a coating. In this case, however, the immune cells did not die.

Worried

Vriesekoop remarked to Utrecht.nieuws.nl that her research presented a “disturbing image” and that she could “[…] imagine that this would lead to an inflammatory response within the body, one wherein the immune system makes and directs more immune cells towards microplastics”. For more information, see this NOS story about the study.

Also watch this (dutch) news item: NOS-item over het onderzoek