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Over 30 kilos of plastic waste per person a year and barely recycled

Amsterdam, 2 November 2018 – The European Commission is taking a series of measures to reduce the number of plastic packaging. In its document, ‘Changing the way we use plastics’, it states that the average European produced 31 kilograms of plastic packaging waste in 2014. Englishman Daniel Webb put it to the test. Throughout 2017, artist Webb collected all the plastic packaging from the groceries he bought. He ended up very close to the European average with 29 kilos.

Webb not only created a piece of art that shows the amount of plastic one person produces, but also analyzed that mountain of waste in detail. The numbers are represented in his report ‘Everyday plastic. What we throw away and where it goes’. The 29 kilos consisted of 4,490 pieces of plastic: a daily average of 12. Extrapolated to all UK residents we’re talking about 295 billion pieces of plastic being discarded in one year. Of all the plastic he collected, 93% was plastic packaging that could only be used once (single use). 67% of this was used to package food.

What happens to all the collected plastic waste? Webb calculated that a mere 4% of the plastic waste he produced is recycled. This turns out to be an entirely different number from the one the European Commission uses. The European Commission poses in the mentioned document that 40% of all plastic packaging was recycled in 2015. Ten times as much. Is that right? And how can we explain this huge deviation in percentages?

The European Commission based its research on numbers from PlasticsEurope and Eurostat. A more detailed explanation and recent numbers can be found in the Plastic Facts report by PlasticsEurope. In 2016, 16.7 million ton of plastic packaging waste was collected in the European Union. Of this collected waste 40.9% was recycled, 20.3% dumped and 38.8% burned (winning back energy). Of course, there are differences per country, but according to this report the UK belongs in the category of countries with 40 to 45% recycling.

The first deviation is that Webb looked at what British councils do and don’t collect for recycling. He gives an example. Plastic containers made of PET for tomatoes are 100% recyclable. The containers are collected by 76% of the councils in the UK, but only 32% of the containers are collected with recycling in mind. Because only 32% of the tomato containers are recycled, he uses this percentage. By then applying this approximation to all plastic waste items, Webb comes to the conclusion that only 10% of his plastic waste is collected for recycling.

A second deviation is that Webb focusses on recycling in the UK itself, whereas the European Union and the plastic industry also add the plastic waste that is exported. That last part is dubious, because it’s unclear what the receiving countries do with the plastic waste. Webb calculates that the United Kingdom exports 63% of its plastic waste. You can’t just blindly consider that 63% as recycling.

Webb comes to the conclusion that a mere 4% of his plastic waste is truly recycled. The European plastic industry goes by ten times that.

How a broader definition of the industry fools us all.

 

Photograph: Artwork by Webb with plastic waste collected by himself.

Ethane-tsunami threatens Europe

Amsterdam, 29 October 2018 – Last month the International Energy Agency published the report ‘The Future of Petrochemicals’. One of the main conclusions is that in the next few years the number of petrochemical products, particularly plastics, will greatly increase due to the combination of the growing world economy, increasing world population and technological development.

According to the report, attempts by Governments to limit the use of one-time plastic packaging (the so-called single-use plastics), will be meaningless in comparison with the soaring consumption of plastic in developing countries. The global competition between plastic producers is caused as well as reinforced by the offer of cheap raw materials, particularly shale gas from the United States.

Ethane is a natural gas that is derived from shale gas. Thanks to cheap shale gas the United States has achieved a favourable competitive position again: plastic made of ethane now has a 40% share of the world production. Also in Europe ethane is the new raw material for plastic production, because it competes with the more expensive naphtha that is used in Europe. The IEA-report predicts that in 2030 the production of ethane will have increased by 70%. A quarter of the ethane that is produced is expected to be exported, mainly to Europe.

The gas is already being brought from the United States to Europe with ships owned by Ineos, a British chemical giant that invests in new ethane crackers on the continent. In Appalachia (USA) 35.8 billion dollars is being invested in shale gas infrastructure, including pipelines to terminals on the US East Coast. While the European Union is working hard to combat the plastic soup, the import of ethane will make it possible for European plastic producers to bring much more plastic on the market at even lower cost. It will be much harder to get recycling plastic off the ground, as part of the desired circular economy.

In conclusion, for the European Union the most effective way to fight the plastic soup and to promote recycling is to ban the import of ethane. Preferably in the very short term!


Also read: Big plastic manufacturer might open factory in Botlek area

Also read: Investment industry causes tsunami of plastic

EU Parliamentarians join cleanup, day before the vote on Plastics Strategy

Members of Parliament clean Strasbourg

Over 30 European politicians and their staff joined the cleanup today in Strasbourg to show their support to the 17 million people worldwide participating in World Cleanup Day last September. “I was surprised to see so much waste so close to the European Parliament”, says Frédérique Ries – rapporteur from the ENVI committee. Currently she is guiding an ambitious agreement with regard to single-use plastics through the European Parliament. “This proves once again that the directive on the table is needed now, in order to stop the mismanagement of plastic and other waste in our environment, rivers and oceans.”

The cleanup in Strasbourg was co-hosted by Plastic Soup Foundation. “This voting is very important and it’s the first important step in Europe towards reducing plastic by law. We keep our fingers crossed for the outcome of the voting”, says Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation.

Waste is everywhere

In total, over 500 liters of waste was collected, in less than 30 minutes. “Unfortunately, waste is everywhere, and we are so used to it that we do not even see it. Participating in a cleanup is actually the most efficient way to overcome this trash blindness. Once you have, you will see waste everywhere, in your street, along the highway, on the beach,…”, says Anna Gril, from World Cleanup Day France.

Clean it or eat it

The impact of plastic pollution on public health is unknown at this time. ”As microplastics act as magnets to pesticides, detergents and other toxic materials that are spooled in our oceans, we can assume that this intake of microplastics will prove to have a negative impact on our wellbeing. What we do know is that microplastics are massively found in food and drinks we consume regularly: salt, fish and drinking water, hence even in our beer! ” says Thomas de Groote, coordinator of the Strasbourg Event.

Europe takes action

In the last months, the European Parliament has been even more ambitious than the Commission in increasing all its proposals with regards to the fight against single use plastics (SUP) for which Member States will have to impose a reduction in consumption. Frédérique Ries has extended the list of prohibited SUP from 2021 (cotton swabs, plates, cutlery, cutlery, straws and balloon sticks) to ultra-light plastic bags, to packaging and mulching in oxodegradable plastic, and to food and drink containers made of expanded polystyrene. In addition to these products, an ambitious reduction target of 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030 also applies to cigarette filters. Strengthening also the EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) regime with the affirmation of the polluter-pays principle: the idea here is to shift the burden of financing, collecting and disposing of waste from public authorities to producers. The ENVI committee furthermore introduces quantified targets for the collection and recycling of fishing gear. In addition, it also requires the tobacco industry to contribute financially to the collection and processing of cigarette butts, which occupy second place on the sad podium of the most common SUP on the beaches.

The MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament, Heidi Hautala, also joined the cleanup.

Europe is clearly responsible for only a small part of the plastic pollution of the oceans. On the other hand, it can, and must be a major part of the solution, take the lead at the global level, as it has done in the past in the fight against climate change. Prohibit, reduce, tax, but also replace, warn… Member States will have the choice of weapons. It is up to them to make good use of it, it is up to us to force ambition.

Plenary vote on October 24th

Citizens are expecting one thing from the European Parliament this Wednesday at noon: that we adopt the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. For the environment, for future generations, for the millions of mobilized Europeans who observe us and are ready to consume differently. It is essential to protect the marine environment and reduce the environmental damage bill from plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros until 2030.

Practical info:

The event took place on Tuesday October 23rd from 8-9am in front of the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg. It was hosted by World Cleanup Day and co-hosted by Frédérique Ries (ALDE), Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA), Simona Bonafè (S&D) & Angélique Delahaye (EPP) and joined by Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA and Vice-President of the European Parliament), Marco Affronte (Greens/EFA), Reinhardt Butikofer (Greens/EFA), Marc Demesmaeker (ECR), Michele Rivasi (Greens/EFA), Marc Tarabella (S&D), and Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA).

THE BIG DISPUTE: RECYCLE OR REDUCE PLASTIC?

Amsterdam, 22 June 2018 – Recently, multinationals have set goals to deal with plastic pollution that they themselves have created with their single-use packaging. Their goals have a striking similarity. Whether it is McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Unilever or Coca-Cola, they all pledge that in 2025 or 2030, 100% of their packaging will be made of renewable, compostable or recycled materials.

What they do not say is that the endless uses of plastic packaging will simply continue. Similarly, there is no assurance whatsoever that no plastic packaging will leak into the environment.

Just take Starbucks for example. As early as 2008, Starbucks promised that 100 percent of its coffee cups would be either reused or recyclable by 2015. Ten years later, most of their four billion cups still end up on landfills and elsewhere every year – the plastic coating in the cups means that they can hardly be recycled and there is no system to collect the used cups. It makes no difference to the plastic soup whether the cups are made of recycled materials or not.

The only real solution to tackle plastic pollution is to dramatically reduce or ban single-use packaging.

The solution for Starbucks is simple. Kiss the disposable cup goodbye and serve coffee either in personal cups that customers bring or put a deposit on the cups so that they will be returned and reused.

While some countries are announcing bans on single-use packaging – see the recent initiatives by the European Union and India – other governments are falling for the wiles of industry. Environment ministers in Australia, for example, recently declared that all Australian packaging must be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. Is it any wonder that these targets will be carried out by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, whose members include 950 packaging companies?


 

European Commission’s Proposal to Reduce Single-Use Plastic

Brussels/Amsterdam, May 28, 2018 — The European Commission is fighting the plastic soup. The proposal for a separate Directive that was presented in Brussels today is a step in the right direction, but one that does not go far enough.

Europe is taking on Single Use Plastics (SUP). Several plastic products, such as disposable cutlery, stirrers, cotton earbuds, and straws, will be banned entirely under the proposed document. For these products, alternatives exist. Other plastic products will be labeled to inform buyers, and still others must be designed better.

Producers will be held accountable for the disposal phase of their SUP products; in 2025, 90% of plastic bottles must be collected by their manufacturers. The European Commission considers this feasible with the implementation of deposit schemes. Producers will also have to pay for cleaning up stray plastic, including cigarette filters. These plans are based on the plastic items that are most frequently found on beaches. Additional specific rules are proposed to prevent fishnets from ending up in the ocean permanently.

According to European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, the proposed Directive is incredibly ambitious. It may even be the world’s most ambitious legislative measure to diffuse the plastic crisis. In his own words, “Europe is leading the way”, as he stated during the press conference. Citizens of Europe have given the commission the mandate for this initiative. Timmermans pointed out that 95 percent of Europeans consider measures against SUP necessary and urgent.

No matter how ambitious the proposal may be, the crucial question is whether it is ambitious enough. The banning of even a few plastic products is, above all, a symbolic measure. Large quantities of (unnecessary) plastic packaging, 59% of all plastics, are hardly or not at all restricted in the proposal. No concrete reduction targets have been formulated, and the emphasis is placed on recycling rather than on reduction. There are even more shortcomings. While the commission says that people’s health is an important starting point, there is nothing presented about reducing harmful chemical additives, including hormone-disrupting substances. A proposal for a European tax on plastic is also missing; any tax measures are left to the Member States to decide upon.

Read the press release about the Directive here and see a summary of the press conference here


Also read: Powerful European plastics industry lobby resists European Union measures

Powerful European plastics industry lobby resists European Union measures

Amsterdam/Brussels 24 May 2018 – There is much at stake if the European Union announces measures against growing plastic pollution. The Corporate Europe Observatory researches lobbying activities in Brussels and has analysed that of the plastics industry.

The European Union’s directive was leaked a few weeks ago. It showed that Single Use Plastics (SUP) in particular will be addressed. Products that have alternatives will be banned; other products must have information labels for consumers; and yet others will have to be designed better. The number of SUPs will be reduced and producers will be made responsible for the disposal phase of their products. They will have to pay for the collection and disposal of litter, for example.

It is hardly surprising that the plastics industry started a strong lobby campaign to fight these regulations. The overriding question is whether and to what extent the European Commission will listen to them and propose a strongly reduced package of measures on 28 May.

Corporate Europe Observatory has listed how many times the industry has met with the European Commission and spoken to Euro Parliamentarians; how many full-time lobbyists are employed; and how much money is spent on this. What emerges is that the industry will not comment on voluntary quantitative reduction goals and on what time-scale or what percentage of plastic products should be recyclable or reusable. The comments that the industry does issue hugely diverge from the intentions of the European Commission.

The European Commission says that it will introduce legal measures should the European plastics industry not come up with more ambitious goals itself. The plastics lobby has already responded and has stated that the Commission’s plans are insufficiently founded on scientific evidence and that it would make more sense to voluntarily improve the plastic cycle. The emphasis would then be placed on circularity and the efficient use of resources, thereby continuing the production of unlimited plastic products.

The plastics industry is using all the means it has at its disposal to resist the introduction of a tax on the use of virgin plastics. A tax would make the production of new plastic more expensive and at the same time would make it more attractive to use recycled plastic. These were the Commission’s initial plans, but these have quietly disappeared into the background.


Also read: Investment warning plastic packaging