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Worldwide call for a Clean Planet: Bring in container deposits to combat pollution from bottles and cans

Amsterdam, 9 May 2019 – A worldwide network of environmental organisations from five continents is calling for the worldwide introduction of deposit return systems for drink containers. On Thursday 9 May at 9 am local time, these environmental organisations displayed the words ‘Clean Planet’ at iconic places in more than 20 participating countries.

In the Netherlands, the Recycling Netwerk Benelux, the Plastic Soup Foundation and GoClean De Liemers took part in this action. The enormous letters spelling out ‘Clean Planet’ – made from discarded drink cans found in litter – appeared on the banks of the Nederrijn river near Arnhem.

Attention to worldwide environmental pollution
This action draws attention to the global environmental pollution caused by drink containers. Around 1.6 trillion containers were sold worldwide in 2015 and it is expected that in 2019 this number will reach 1.9 trillion. Many of these end up in our environment. Container deposit systems are a proven and effective measure to prevent this pollution. The Statiegeldalliantie, speaking on behalf of almost all Dutch municipalities, all twelve provinces, all 21 water boards and 190 companies, has been calling for some time for extension of the statiegeld deposit system in the Netherlands to include cans and small plastic bottles.

The European Union wants to tackle drink container pollution effectively. The new European directive on single-use plastics stipulates that within ten years, 90% of plastic bottles must be selectively collected in all member states. In practice, this means introducing a deposit on plastic bottles in all EU countries, because such a high collection rate can only be achieved with a deposit return system.

Deposit on cans
With this action, environmental organisations in the Netherlands are drawing attention to container deposits specifically on drink cans. They ask the Dutch government to include cans in the legislative process for statiegeld. Together with bottles, cans usually account for 40 percent of all litter. During World Cleanup Day in September 2018, more than 35,000 pieces of litter were removed and recorded in the Netherlands. Among the most commonly found items, cans ranked number two and bottles came in third, according to research by the Plastic Soup Foundation. The cans pose a danger to animals and especially to cows. When a discarded can on pasture land is mowed, sharp pieces can get into feed for cattle. This leads to internal bleeding and perforated intestines in cows, which can kill them.

Deposit return systems are already effective in combating pollution from plastic bottles and cans in forty countries. As a result, the share of large bottles in street litter has been reduced by 70 to 90 percent, as calculated by research agency CE Delft in a study commissioned by the Dutch government.

 

 

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Disappointing UNEA resolution on plastic soup: Shell and Unilever get their own way

Amsterdam, 20th March 2019 – The world has chosen not to combat the plastic soup with a reduction in plastics production or the introduction of a ban on single use plastics.

This is basically the disappointing result of the fourth UNEA conference in Nairobi, where the member states of the UN agreed a resolution on combatting the plastic soup. Several countries, led by the USA, blocked suggestions to combat the plastic soup internationally.

 Multiple resolutions discussed.

During the UNEA-4 Conference, concluded last Friday, the resolution “Addressing single-use plastic products pollution” was ratified. Member states are called upon therein to take measures to curtail and limit the ecological consequences of plastic waste. However, there is absolutely nothing mentioned in there about coordinated international discussion, nor any mandated obligatory reduction of (packaging) plastics. Several resolutions were discussed at the conference with the aim of stopping plastics pollution but the more ambitious ones didn’t even make the grade. Norway, Japan and Sri Lanka together proposed working towards a new international agreement with binding objectives. India even introduced a resolution at the very last minute aimed at banning single-use plastic.

The rejected resolutions were all in line with the processes already proposed by more than 90 environmental organisations, including The Plastic Soup Foundation which expounds upon how a new international convention on combatting the plastic soup should be manifested.

Read about that proposal here.

Opposition from the United States of America

The environmental organisations, collectively in Nairobi, accused the USA of blocking any ambitious resolutions, delaying discussions and modifying texts. The USA chose to defend the interests of their petrochemical industries who have invested more that 200 billion dollars in new plastics production. Shell for instance, is one of these companies that has invested billions in new plastics and profits from cheap shale oil and gas.

The environmental organisations issued a joint declaration to the press.

The Guardian quotes David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law as saying:

“The vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening.” Even after the ratification of a greatly modified resolution, the American delegation announced that they did not feel bound to it at all.

Plastics manufacturers are happy

The World Plastics Council, the forum uniting plastics manufacturers, welcomed the resolution in a press release. They postulate that the first priority must lie in improved collection of plastic waste, especially in developing countries with large populations. The resolution however, imposes not one obligation on manufacturers to produce less (packaging) plastic. Unilever, one of the biggest polluters in South East Asia, also aims more towards recycling (mini) packaging instead of a reduction in production.

The Plastic Soup Foundation’s MD, Maria Westerbos:

“This successful lobby from the industry means that the plastic soup will only get worse over the upcoming years and that countries with the worst pollution will be landed with the worst problems. It is unbelievably disappointing that profits are once again seen to be more important than a habitable planet for future generations.”

Photo: Art installation made from plastic pegs by Angelika Heckhausen


Do also read – Protest Greenpeace bij Unilever tegen wegwerplastic.

Do also read – Nieuw industrieel offensief: Alliance to end plastic waste.

Do also read – Wil het Kabinet-Rutte wel echt minder plastic?

 

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At least 24 million nurdles washed up on dutch beaches

Amsterdam, 14thMarch 2019 – A small 24 million ‘nurdles’ have been washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen (NL).  Cause? Containers falling overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe, early 2019. This has been established by researchers at State University Groningen (NL). The loss of nurdles initially appeared to be a one-off, but is in reality a structural problem.

Earlier this year, 350 containers fell overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe. Several containers held plastic nurdles, raw material for products made from plastic. These washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and also landed along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen. Nurdles are extremely difficult to clean up although in Schiermonnikoog (NL) they are attempting the job with a specially adapted ‘vacuum cleaner’.

They’re sure to keep washing ashore too. Researchers at State University Groningen (RUG-NL) have invented a clever way to map just where they can be found, with the use of volunteers and an interactive map at waddenplastic.nl .To enable this analysis, RUG researchers, along with the volunteers, map out quadrants along the flood line measuring 40x40cm and actually count all nurdles found in each section. This is repeated every ten metres, after which they enter the data on the website. Currently there have been three hundred quadrants counted, giving the baseline estimate of 24 million.

Recent evidence also indicates that containers falling overboard can definitely lead to veritable nurdle disasters. It has happened before in South Africa and in Hong Kong. However, we’re wondering how things stand with daily loss of nurdles and Shoreliner offers us insight there.

A quarter of a million nurdles are counted every two months.

The Shoreliner catches floating plastic waste along rivers and removes it. The office of Tauw Civil Engineers has developed this system for the Port of Rotterdam NV and the Directorate General of Public Works and Water Management (NL). It recently won an award as most sustainable project by the Port of Rotterdam.

The Shoreliner has been operating in the Lekhaven (NL) for two years already and is cleared out on alternate months. Apart from other floating plastic waste, approximately 250,000 nurdles are counted at every clear-out. This means around 3 million of them every year at this spot alone. The amount that reaches the sea via the Nieuwe Waterweg (NL) is reckoned at multiples of the amounts washing up from the containers lost by MSC Zoe.

No pacts have been made and nothing agreed about the loss of nurdles.

The nurdles collected in the Lekhaven originate at plastics manufactories situated upstream. These manufacturers are extremely shoddy in the use of their plastics, despite the sincere promises from the industry as a whole, around Operation Clean Sweep with regards to the prevention of loss of these nurdles.

The Plastic Pact was recently ratified. This contains the promise to reduce the amount of waste plastics in the environment by 20%, by the year 2025. Agreements about the loss of nurdles, however, are missing within this pact. Individual plastics manufacturers such as Dow Chemical, Sabic, or Brealis, failed to add their signatures to the agreement, although the trade organisation under which they fall and to which they are affiliated, The Federation of Dutch Rubber and Plastics Industries (NRK-NL), did sign. The question is, will the NRK actually tackle the problem of nurdle loss, or not.

Research collaboration

Together with the North Sea Society (SNZ-NL) and IVN (NL), we at The Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF-NL) are carrying out research around Clean Rivers which concerns the waste collected in the rivers and along the riverbanks of the River Maas and the River Waal. The nurdle scores high among items found in Dutch rivers. This research is about to be widely extended thanks to an important donation from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

MD of PSF, Marian Westerbos: “Until there is real and documented commitment within the industry and while this continues to be unsanctioned, nurdles will continue to stream into the North Sea at a massive rate. This is a disaster that’s happening every single day.”


Do also read: Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

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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