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ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Amsterdam, 7 March 2019– Every day we inhale and ingest microplastics through the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Do these microplastics then find their way to our brains or into the amniotic fluid of our unborn children? Do the particles affect our intestinal bacteria and lung cells? Or affect our immunity system? Countless questions about the possible health risks of plastic have not yet been answered. But this may change this year.

ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research, made known today that it is subsidising fifteen short research projects into the most burning questions. In total, with additional contributions by the NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it will make an amount of 1.6 million euros available for this purpose.

As the communications partner, the Plastic Soup Foundation will publish the results on its new Plastic Health Platform.

Maria signs collaboration agreementmst met ZonMW

Scientific research into potentially dangerous consequences of microplastics and nanoplastics on the level of the cells in organs is still in the starting blocks. Because ever more alarm bells are ringing about the health risks of plastic, this new scientific research is more urgent than ever. With the ZonMw research, the Netherlands is positioning itself as one of the worldwide leaders.

Frank Pierik, Programme Manager ZonMw says “We are happy that the first projects in the Microplastics & Health programme can start. There is still very little known. This series of short projects will shed light and pave the way for more structured research into the health effects of microplastics.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, adds to this. “We are proud that we have reached this stage. While we do not know for certain, plastic, and in particular microplastics and nanoplastics, are very likely to pose a health risk. Over the last few years we have worked behind the scenes to create The Plastic Health Coalition to continually communicate and share the results of new research. We will make the findings of the ZonMw research known to the world and produce mini documentaries about them. These videos can eventually be viewed on our website and on the ZonMw’s website. Another part of The Plastic Health Coalition is the Plastic Test Lab. In addition to the ZonMw research, we will work with the Free University of Amsterdam to test if various products release microplastics and nanoplastics – just think about plastic teabags in hot water – and hormone disrupting additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants.”

Photo: Karl Taylor Photography

Also read: Important new report plastic health

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Does the Rutte cabinet really want less plastic?

Amsterdam, 6 March 2019 – State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven (D66) of Infrastructure and Water Management has promised that in 2025 the Netherlands will use 20% less (packaging) plastic than in 2017. Agreements to that effect were made in the Plastic Pact with plastic producing and plastic using companies. However, real plastic producers such as Dow Chemical, Sabic or Borealis, did not sign the Plastic Pact, did not commit to any reduction.

If you want less plastic, you in the first place need to produce less plastic. You would therefore expect the Cabinet to discourage plastic production. The contrary is the case. Not only did they fail to succeed in convincing individual plastic producers to sign the Pact, behind the scenes the cabinet has even been making efforts to bring new plastic factories to the Netherlands

Late last year, the British chemical giant INEOS faced the choice of location for the construction of new plastic factories that use cheap shale gas from the United States as the raw material for pellets. The choice was between Botlek and Antwerp; the construction involved a 3 billion investment. The company eventually opted for Antwerp. Both Belgium and the Netherlands lobbied hard to get the new get plastic factories, according to research by the journalist collective Follow the Money.

The article quotes Adriaan Visser (D66), alderman for major projects in Rotterdam, who in the municipal meeting on 17 January informed the council about the ways used to convince INEOS to choose for Rotterdam: “I can honestly say that we have done everything in our power to achieve this. And we did not stand alone. The port authority, VNO-NCW, the cabinet including the Prime Minister, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency have also made serious efforts to bring the company to Rotterdam.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The cabinet has engaged in double‑speak, a cardinal sin in politics. We want clarity. If the cabinet promises us less plastic, it must first ensure that less plastic is produced, on Dutch territory to begin with. The fact that lobbying for more plastic goes on behind the scenes, nourishes the thought that the Plastic Pact is nothing more than a greenwash-operation for the stage.”

Photo: National Government

Also read: INEOS invests 3 billion euros in plastic plants in Antwerp 

United Kingdom introduces plastic packaging tax

Amsterdam, 5thMarch 2019– The Plastic Pact recently presented by the Dutch Government aspires to close the ring of recycling, through recycling more and recycling better. Industries have promised to achieve a minimum of 35% use of recyclates for the manufacture of all plastic packaging. Recyclate is recovered from and manufactured from waste plastic.

But there’s a problem. New (virgin) plastic is substantially cheaper and of a much better quality than recyclate. Add to that the expense of collecting, sorting and processing waste plastic. The industry frankly misses the financial incentive to use recyclates in packaging, which defeats the actual purpose.

The UK thinks to solve this problem by taxing the production as well as the import of (empty) packaging. The UK Government has decided that from April 2022, a tax will be levied on plastic packaging that contains less that a certain minimal percentage of recyclate. A bottom line of 30% is proposed but this percentage could be higher or lower depending on the result of the currently running consultation on the whole.

A tax on new plastic is an effective measure that will ensure that new packaging material will become more expensive. This will cause a dip in the demand for plastic and will also mean a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, leading to a reduction in CO2 emissions. It will also immediately become more financially attractive to collect and recycle waste plastic because packaging made from that will remain untaxed.

It remains a mystery as to why the Dutch Government does not implement this tax. The Plastic Pact does not even mention such a possibility.

Photo: foodrevolution.org

Read also – The advance towards EU taxing on Virgin Plastic.

Clarity about the Dutch anti-deposit plan

Amsterdam, 1 March 2019– The deposit system (in Dutch “statiegeld”) is the jewel of the circular economy. It ensures less litter, lower cleaning up costs, high return rates, better recycling, and is widely supported in society. The Statiegeldalliantie, with which more than 850 organizations and local authorities have become affiliated since October 2017, shows just how widely it is supported and what the benefits are.

Now the Plastic Pact, recently presented by State Secretary Van Veldhoven (D66), aims to reduce the environmental impact of plastic and to promote circularity. However, statiegeld as an effective tool is not mentioned even once in the Plastic Pact. The explanation must be that some companies which are strongly opposed to the introduction or expansion of statiegeld, such as Albert Heijn supermarket chain, would otherwise not have signed the agreement.

The Plastic Pact does state that signatories will develop “new, smart collection and return systems by 2020 at the latest”. This deadline falls in line with the objective set by the State Secretary March 2018. When, in the autumn of 2020, it appears that small plastic bottles are not 90% recycled and there is also no 70 to 90% reduction in small bottles littering the environment, the deposit system for small bottles will then be introduced by law.

What will these “new, smart collection and return systems” involve? In January of this year, Van Veldhoven sent to the Dutch Parliament the “ActiePlan NederlandSchoon 2019. Samen aan het werk om zwerfafval te verminderen” [Action Plan Clean Netherlands 2019: Working together to reduce litter]. This plan provides clarity on the approach advocated by the packaging industry. It was drafted by NederlandSchoon, which is financed by and represents the packaging industry. The plan is presented “in agreement with providing an alternative plan [for statiegeld]”.

In the past year, NederlandSchoon has selected four areas where container return logistics are being tested. These are areas in Zaandam, Rotterdam-Noord, Heerenveen and Meierijstad where extra waste bins have been placed with the motto “Flesjes in de bak, zo doen we dat!” (Bottles in the bin, that’s how we do it!). Passers-by and business owners are thereby encouraged to keep these areas clean. A monitoring program will show how effective this approach is. The four test areas together must provide sufficient insight into the effectiveness of the measures “to form the basis for a national expansion”.

What else does the Action Plan include? “A separate collection structure has been developed for the small plastic bottles that have been collected via the bottle banks. In the four areas, the bags with plastic bottles are collected separately and then sorted and recycled into new plastic products.”

This is essentially the “new, smart collection and return system” with which the set objectives will have to be achieved. However, it is neither new nor smart, but just passing old ideas off as new. In order to avoid introducing statiegeld, the business community presented a plan back in 2001, to place special waste bins at busy locations to encourage people to throw in their fast food waste, according to an article in the Dutch daily De Telegraaf in April of that year.

Source: www.zwerfinator.nl

The plan is also not smart because it doesn’t work. In Rotterdam, measurements show that the extra waste bins placed there have no effect whatsoever. A headline from the daily Algemeen Dagblad in December last year stated: “In Rotterdam slingeren ruim twee keer zo veel plastic flesjes op straat als in de rest van Nederland” [In Rotterdam, more than twice as many plastic bottles are tossed onto the streets as in the rest of the Netherlands]. The call from Rotterdam City Council for fast-tracked introduction of statiegeld is now extra loud and strong. In Zaandam, too, there have been regular tests in recent months on whether any results have been achieved. Dirk Groot, also known as the Zwerfinator, has used the Litterati app to record and count all drinks packaging he finds on the street here. Despite the extra waste bins and despite all efforts to motivate people to put their bottles and cans in the special bins, the number of littered drinks containers here is above the national average. The number of bottles on the street has increased, instead of decreased.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, says: “With beautiful words and vague plans we are shown the illusion that the Netherlands will be freed from littered bottles. These kinds of manoeuvers are not aimed at actually cleaning the Netherlands, but to frustrate the much-needed introduction of statiegeld yet again”.

Also read: England introduces deposit system with coca colas support


More recycled PET in clothing: no guarantee for less fiber loss

Amsterdam, 27 February 2019 – Plastic microfibers are found everywhere: in water, on land and in the air. Machine washing of synthetic clothing is the biggest cause. At least hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of tiny fibers are released with every cycle.

In the report Fixing fashion, which was released this week, the British Parliament has determined that the textile and fast fashion industry are the most polluting sectors. The loss of microfibers is only one of many environmental problems the industry causes. It also includes water pollution, high CO2 emission, use of toxic chemicals, as well as numerous social maltreatments. The report, drawn up based on hearings by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, says it like it is and wants the industry to strongly reduce their environmental strain. The commission also wants the British government to take effective measures.

59 Textile companies in the United Kingdom have promised to use at least 25% rPET (recycled PET) in their garments by 2020. This has various (environmental) benefits: less new plastic has to be used, less plastic ends up in landfills, it creates a market for used plastic bottles and, not in the least, saves CO2. Due to these benefits, it’s understandable that even the parliamentary commission follows this course and suggests that much more fashion in the United Kingdom should be made from recycled plastic. This is to be stimulated by levying tax on all synthetic clothing that doesn’t consist of at least 50% recycled PET.

However, clothing made from recycled plastic unfortunately also leads to fiber loss. One environmental problem is therefore maintained in order to solve other (environmental) problems. The commission does add that clothing with recycled PET should be specially designed to minimize shedding, but doesn’t say whether this is technically achievable.  And “garments designed to minimize shedding” is as vague as it can be.

Without a norm for fiber loss there’s even a risk that the propagated way (more recyclables in clothing) will have counterproductive results for the plastic soup, because not less, but more plastic fibers enter the environment on balance.

Also read – Millions of microfibers in wastewater with every wash


Important new report: Plastic & Health

Amsterdam, 25 February 2019– The effects of plastic on human health has never been closely researched. To date, research has focused on specific points in the life cycle of plastic. Scientists and environmental organisations have now joined forces to examine the relationship between plastic and health for the entire life cycle of plastic. The Plastic & Health. The hidden costs of a plastic planet report clearly shows that each separate phase in the life cycle of plastic threatens public health and that these phases should not be viewed independently from each other. The phases in the chain were defined as:

  • mining and transport of fossil raw materials
  • refining and production
  • processing of the raw materials into pellets
  • consumer products and packaging
  • waste processing
  • plastic in the environment.

Countless illnesses are related to plastic. The report shows the severity of the accumulated health risks throughout the plastic chain and identifies the people that are most at risk. The authors conclude that plastic is posing a health risk worldwide. It must be countered on all fronts. Their recommendations include:

  • centralising the entire plastic chain
  • complete reduction in the production and use of plastic
  • complete transparency of the chemicals used by industry
  • reduction in exposure to toxic substances, including changing national and international regulations.

The report was produced on the initiative of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). Read the summary here.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation says “How much of a threat plastic poses to our health is being asked more frequently. This report comes at the right time and no one can avoid it. We will definitely draw on its findings in our own health campaign and coalition.”

Also read: Do not reuse supermarket water bottles


Chemicals from plastic found in eggs of the fulmar

Amsterdam, February 20, 2019 – Fulmars skim the surface of the sea in search of food. They do not only ingest food, but also floating plastic. The stomach contents of the Northern Fulmar, according to long-term Dutch research, consists of twenty-five pieces of plastic on average. Researchers associated with the Canadian Wildlife Service have now discovered chemicals from plastic in the eggs of the fulmar for the first time. The researchers presume that the substances originate from the swallowed plastic and end up in egg yolks through the bloodstream.

Eggs from the Northern Fulmars that nestle on the island of Prince Leopold in the polar region north of Canada were investigated. One egg contained hormone disrupting substances from plasticizers. Other eggs contained chemicals that are added to plastic to prevent disintegration and color loss.

The shocking research results were presented in Washington DC during a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and have not yet been published. Only a limited amount of eggs were examined. The research group now wants to investigate more eggs, also from birds that breed in areas where they come into contact with plastic much more than in the polar region.

Foto: kilda.org.uk

Also read the news in The Guardian.

Plastic Soup Foundation does not sign Plastic Pact

Amsterdam, 21 February 2019– Today Stientje van Veldhoven (D66), State Secretary of Infrastructure and Water Management, presents the Plastic Pact NL. This agreement, signed by approximately eighty companies and organizations, would have to combat the plastic soup. The parties agree to reduce the environmental pressure of plastic and to stimulate circularity. But even if the Plastic Pact is successful in this goal, it is not a solution for the plastic soup.

The overall suggestion of the agreement is that we can master the plastic soup through better and increased recycling. However, to combat the plastic soup, effective measures such as expansion of bottle deposits, should be taken immediately. Also a legally anchored objective to reduce the production and use of (single use) plastic in absolute terms, is of great importance. The growth of the plastic production, however, remains unrestrained, this is expected to increase worldwide by 10 percent over the next ten years.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We were not involved in the creation of the Plastic Pact,  nor did we sign it. Now we will first study the agreement on its merits. Only one thing is essential for us: the prevention of plastic in our living environment and in the ocean!”

Plastic Soup Atlas of the World: reprint and international editions

Amsterdam, 19 February 2019 – Last year in April, the Dutch publishing house LIAS published, in cooperation with the Plastic Soup Foundation, the Plastic Soup Atlas of the World. Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, presented on Malta the first copy to Karmenu Vella, the European Commissioner for the environment. This book, written for a wide audience, deals with all aspects of plastic soup and has attracted a lot of interest. In the beginning of this year a second Dutch edition came out, and the atlas has found its way into schools as an educational tool.

The publishing house LIAS sold the rights of the book to Japan, Italy, and the global English rights to the USA. The American publisher Island Press will issue a new English edition: Plastic Soup. An Atlas of Ocean Pollution on 4 April 2019.

This English world edition will be published in the USA, Australia and the UK. It has a new cover and is two inches smaller than the current atlas-sized edition. It made the The Independent’s selection of the nine best plastic-free books and NewSouth Books, an Australian bookstore, placed the book on its list of April’s new lead titles.

But this is not the end of the international success of the book. Later this year Poplar Publishing will issue a Japanese edition and Edizioni Ambiente the Italian edition.

Rebecca Bright, Island Press editor: “Ocean pollution is a critical global issue, and this beautiful book is a resource and an inspiration for those looking for creative solutions. We’re proud to publish this edition of Plastic Soup and bring it to English-speaking readers around the world.”

Order here via Bol.com:

Also read: European Commissioner Vella Receives the first copy of the plastic soup atlas of the world


The Clean Rivers project receives almost two million euro to make the Dutch river delta plastic-free

Amsterdam, February 18, 2019 – The Clean Rivers Project has procured a donation of € 1,950,000.00 from the National Postcode Lottery (NPCL NL). This brings their goal of making all Dutch river estuaries free of plastic, ever closer.

The Clean Rivers Project was founded in order to get some insight into the amount, and the origin of waste along our riverbanks. This makes it possible to tackle the waste problem at source. It’s the first time that research on this scale with regards to river pollution has been undertaken in The Netherlands using ‘citizen science’: volunteers collecting data for scientific research.

Martijn Krabbé came along on the 18thof February to personally hand over the cheque as Ambassador for the NPCL, right where the instigators IVN Natuureducatie, Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee were busy with a river waste project along the River Waal. “Our dream of making the river banks and estuaries free of plastic by 2030 can now really come true. The nice thing about this particular project is that anyone and everyone can help out. By creating more awareness, that’s just what is happening too,” said Joline de Weerdt, Regional Manager of IVN.

Clean Rivers

Millions of sea mammals and birds become trapped, entangled in plastic every year. They all see it as food too and can end up dying with a stomach filled with plastic waste. The potential, consequential threat to human health is not very far off if the plastic enters the food chain. Lots of plastic streams into the sea via our rivers. This is why Plastic Soup Foundation, IVN Natuureducatie and Stichting De Noordzee decided to collaborate in 2017 and instigated the ‘Clean Rivers Project’.

From about 200 pathways along the rivers Maas and Waal, these organisations carry out their research with the help of trained volunteers, giving them insight into the various types of waste, the most frequently found items and the most polluted hot-spots. The data collected is used to approach businesses and manufacturers and have them address their responsibilities, as well as bring things into discussion with policy makers and increase awareness under consumers. Large scale clean-ups are also organised annually, which attract up to 4,000 volunteers.

Extra contribution

With this extra contribution from the National Postcode Lottery, the Clean Rivers Project can be substantially expanded. The number of Dutch rivers that can now be cleaned up and researched, immediately becomes exponentially larger. Hundreds more researchers will now be trained.

This donation was made possible by participants in the Postcode Lottery and took place on the eve of the Gala for Good Money (Goed Geld Gala). On the 4thof March, The National Postcode Lottery (NL) announces just how much they will be able to donate to various charities and causes for the good of humankind and nature, all thanks to participants. Fifty percent of donations made by participants in the NPCL is earmarked for these causes. The total contributed in 2018 was more than € 357.5M.

Read more about the Clean Rivers Project at www.schonerivieren.org.