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FEWER MICROPLASTICS BY REDUCING MAXIMUM SPEED

Amsterdam, September 25, 2019 – Today, former minister Johan Remkes advises the government to take “drastic measures” as soon as possible to reduce nitrogen emissions. Among the proposed measures that directly contribute to that goal is lowering the speed limit. This has yet another positive effect for people and the environment. At lower speeds, tires wear less and fewer microplastics end up in the environment.

The Remkes Advice

Last summer, a ruling by the Dutch Council of State halted thousands of building projects. Building permits were found to be illegal because the emission of nitrogen affects natural areas. The licensing system used in the Netherlands appears to contravene European agreements. The cabinet, therefore, asked former minister Johan Remkes (VVD) to propose (emergency) measures to cope with the crisis that had arisen. Lowering the speed limit on motorways and provincial roads, never before discussed by the VVD, is one of the measures proposed by the Remkes Commission today in its report “Not everything is possible”.

Tire wear

Tires are made from a mix of natural and synthetic rubber, they wear during use. A single tire will wear around 1.5 kilos before it has to be replaced by a new one. Where does all that wear go? Part of it is so fine that it contributes to fine dust in the air. Particulate matter consists of approximately 3 to 7% tire wear. In the Netherlands alone, according to a WHO study, more than 5000 people die as a result of this. Wear material that does not get into the air is washed away and eventually ends up in the soil, surface waters or sea. It is probably the largest source of microplastics and there is hardly any alternative to avoid these emissions. 0.8 kg of wear is produced per world citizen per year.

Decreasing speed

The formation of wear material depends in part on the way we drive. Pieter Jan Kole, a researcher at the Open University: “By reduced acceleration from the traffic light, going through the bend more carefully and braking anticipatively, we can reduce the wear of our tires. In addition, it is good to regularly check the tire pressure. When we drive more slowly, we also reduce the amount of wear that is released. There is a direct link between speed and the amount of wear material that arises. “By adapting our driving style we can prevent 10% of the wear material and save lives.” Pieter Jan sees Remkes advice as a breakthrough: “For the first time, the political taboo of lowering the maximum speed is being broken. This causes less environmental damage on all sides.” However, in the report ‘Verkenning economische effecten maatregelen bandenslijtage’ (Exploring the economic effects of tire wear measures), which was sent to the House of Representatives in June 2018 by the State Secretary, speed reduction has no priority as a measure compared to other measures that reduce tire wear.

Microplastics in the ocean

Microplastics due to tire wear would represent between 10 and 28% of all microplastics in the ocean. National Geographic refers to various studies, including a scientific study by Pieter Jan and colleagues, and has also asked representatives of the tire industry for a response. Major tire producers have joined forces in The Tyre Industry Project. But this partnership is still in the ignoring phase. Spokesperson Gavin Whitmore replied to National Geographic: “There is no globally accepted definition of microplastics. [Our] studies have found that tire and road wear particles are unlikely to negatively impact human health and the environment.” The British government is already a lot further. The Clean Air Strategy 2019 assumes that microplastics in the ocean, partly from tires, have “well-documented impacts for marine wildlife and the food chain.”

 

Photo: 1.3 kilograms of tire wear with 9,000 kilometers driven. Still from the WDR / Quarks broadcast of 24 October 2017. (https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/sendungen/quarks-und-co/video-gib-gummi–was-man-ueber-autoreifen-wissen-sollte–100.html)

 

WHO calls for more research into the health effects of microplastics: The first conference on this in the world will be held on 3 October

Amsterdam 20 August 2019 – The World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first report into the effects of microplastics on human health. The report cautiously concludes that the concentration of microplastics in our drinking water is low and up to now does not seem to pose risks to human health. But on its own website, the WHO emphasises that what is needed is more research: ‘WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution.’

And this is exactly what is being done in the Netherlands! EUR 1.6 million has been made available to ZonMw that supports health research and innovation in health care. There are currently 15 research projects being carried out in the Netherlands into the effects of microplastics and nanoplastics on our bodies.

On 3 October, the Plastic Soup Foundation, ZonMw and the international Plastic Health Coalition in Amsterdam will hold the very first conference in the world on the findings of these research projects on the relationship between plastic and health. It has been proven that there are plastic particles in our excrement and that plastic particles in zebrafish have broken through the fish’s protective barrier to reach the brain.

The conference will be attended by scientists such as Pete Meyers (renowned scientist and founder of Environmental Health Services); the media such as Sharon Lerner (journalist at The Intercept); and large international companies from all over the world such as Inditex.

Visit the conference website for information and to register: Plastic Health Summit.

 

 

 

 

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WHO wants more research into the health effects of microplastics

Amsterdam, 22 August 2019 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has released for the first time a report on the potential danger of microplastics in tap water and bottled water. The UN organization’s current assessment is that plastic particles in drinking water do not seem to be a problem, but because hardly any research has yet been done into the effects of microplastics on the human body, they are calling for more research. And WHO will have its way: on 3 October of this year, the Plastic Soup Foundation and ZonMw, in collaboration with the Plastic Health Coalition, will make available the first results into the health effects of microplastics on the human body.

Limited risk from drinking water 

The WHO report Microplastics in drinking-water looks at one way that microplastics can get into the human body, namely through drinking tap water or bottled water. In countries such as ours, most microplastics are removed during the process of making drinking water. Possible risks from the remaining particles include physical damage to the body, and chemicals and pathogenic microorganisms that adhere to plastic. Given the low concentrations in treated drinking water, according to the report, the health risk is low relative to other causes of disease.

Ifs and buts

The report points out that more than two billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. These people may be exposed to much higher concentrations. Another problem is what happens to the microplastics that are removed during the production of drinking water. WHO states in the report that there is a lack of information about the toxicity of nanoparticles. These ultra-small particles are potentially dangerous because they can go anywhere in the body. The report states that hardly any research has yet been carried out into the effects of microplastics on the human body. This type of research therefore has high priority.

Research by ZonMw

On 3 October, during the Plastic Health Summit, the first interim results will be presented from fifteen Dutch scientific studies into the effects of eating, drinking and breathing microplastics on the human body. WHO will get what it wishes for. Today’s knowledge gap is tomorrow’s science.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘The WHO report has been compiled on the basis of the literature, but not on the basis of real research into the effects of microplastics on our bodies. We are showing the world for the first time on 3 October what the possible effects are. Only when we know more will we be able to conclude whether our health is in danger or not.’

Photo: Cover of the WHO report.


Read also: WHO roept op tot meer onderzoek naar de gezondheidseffecten van microplastics 

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Better recycling of synthetic mattresses is half-baked solution

Amsterdam, 21 August 2019 – In the Netherlands, 1.2 million mattresses per year are placed at the side of the road as large household waste. Two thirds of these, a few hundred million kilos, are burned. Nearly all those mattresses consist of synthetic materials. If by mid-2019 no meaningful steps have been taken by the sector to reduce this mountain of waste, the government will take legal measures in the form of a mandatory manufacturer responsibility. The majority of the sector opt for recycling. This, however, is a half-baked solution. The real solution is the plastic-free mattress. 

Recycling initiatives

Presently, about 15% of the mattresses are now disassembled and processed, the rest are burned. The mattress industry has the objective to increase the percentage of processed mattresses. Various recycling initiatives have already come into being. Auping and DSM-Niaga have developed a circular mattress. Elements of that mattress are easy to separate and can then be used in new mattresses. In collaboration with waste processor Renewi, IKEA has been investing in the recycling of mattresses. RetourMatras recycles mattresses and reuses more than 90% of the materials. Mattress Recycling Europe collects discarded mattresses in municipalities. These are first placed on collecting carts and are then brought to a processing line.

Harmful substances

Synthetic mattresses contain harmful substances that cannot be removed during the recycling process. Substances such as flame retardants and softening agents are held responsible for a range of diseases. For this reason, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 pointed to the health risks of the circular economy. In the national plan for endocrine disruptors in a circular economy presented last year, the Dutch foundation Wemos pleaded for a clean circular economy. The urgent advice is to avoid harmful substances at the design stage. For synthetic mattresses, however, this solution is an illusion. For instance, flame retardants are added intentionally, as plastics are particularly flammable.

Implementation programme

The government wants the use of raw materials to be halved in 2030 to eventually realise a waste-free economy. One of the ‘icon projects’ in the framework of the Implementation Programme Circular Economy entails improved reuse and design of mattresses. This project focuses on the recycling of discarded mattresses (95% in 2025) and a more durable design, so that in 2025 75% of new mattresses are easier to disassemble to reuse the materials. But circular mattress design should take into account the harmful substances. And the project is silent on precisely that issue.

The true circular mattress has already been in existence for a long time

The cabinet strives to burn significantly fewer mattresses, to recycle a much larger proportion of discarded mattresses, and to more mattresses being designed circularly. However, circular design is not defined. It mainly indicates modular design, so that a discarded mattress can easily be disassembled for usable parts. However, the icon project does not mention the truly circular mattress at all. That mattress simply exists already, is plastic-free and therefore free from harmful substances. This circular mattress consists exclusively of perfectly recyclable organic materials.

Baby mattresses

Especially the demand for organic baby mattresses has increased in recent years. Babies and small children are extra vulnerable to the harmful substances in synthetic mattresses. They sleep a lot and lie with their face directly on the mattress. The artisan company Lavital produces mattresses for adults that consist entirely of natural raw materials, and now also makes mattresses for cots.

Lavital has become a business angel of the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). The company donates part of the proceeds of sold children’s mattresses to the PSF (fill in code ‘ PSF ‘ when ordering the baby mattress).

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘It is very important that companies like Lavital show that you do not have to sleep on plastic with harmful additives. Paricularly babies deserve to make a good start. We are super proud that Lavital has become one of our business angels. ‘


Also read – Plasticers in plastic slow down baby’s language development

The first Plastic Health Summit in the world

We eat, drink and breathe microplastics. Does it make us ill? This is the key question during the world’s first Plastic Health Summit. On October 3 2019, the Plastic Soup Foundation and ZonMw, in cooperation with the Plastic Health Coalition, are organizing conference around the effects of plastic on human health. The initial test results of no less than 15 ground-breaking Dutch scientific research projects will be presented.

New evidence will also be presented regarding the health effects on our day-to-day life of – for example – BPA, PFAS, phthalates and other chemical additives to plastic. We will bring the different players together – industry, politicians, scientists – as we search for shared solutions and strive to form concrete partnerships.

Admission to the conference in Amsterdam is on a “By Invite Only” basis. Do you think you should attend this prestigious event? Tell us why you should be there in a mail to rsvp@plasticsoupfoundation.org

 

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Microplastics found in 119 detergent brands

Amsterdam, July 3 2019 – In Austria, an environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and a consumer organisation (AK OÖ) together tested 300 detergents for microplastics. In 119 detergents microplastics (> 50 μm) were found. Not just the lists of ingredients were examined, but also 36 samples were tested for microplastic contents in a laboratory.

GLOBAL 2000

The results were compared with the list of 520 polymers published by ECHA early 2019 (Annex XV Restriction Report). It is expected that these polymers will be banned from the European Union next year. Already during the investigation some supermarket chains committed to removing the so-called “microbeads” from their home brands.  The report, Test Plastik in Waschmitteln, welcomes this step, but also calls for a ban of all added microplastics – including the liquids.

Liquid plastic

The European chemicals agency ECHA has proposed to ban from the European Union all purposely added microplastics in detergents in 2020. However, this proposal will probably not include plastics in solved or liquid form. Is it unclear to what extend these liquid polymers are biodegradable. The report therefore calls for inclusion of liquid plastics on the list of ingredients to be banned. The report shows that there are plenty of brands that can do without.

Flawed information

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients on product packaging. European legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. The investigators note that this form of information is both tedious and flawed. They call for legislation that ensures that in all cases all ingredients are listed on packaging, just like with personal care products.


Also read: ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics 

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Tyre wear and tear one of the most important sources of microplastics in the environment

Amsterdam, 18 June 2019 – Driving, especially accelerating and breaking, causes wear and tear of car tyres, which produces small plastic particles. These particles can become microplastics and end up in sewers, surface waters and air. In other words, car traffic contributes to particulate matter and environmental pollution. Recent research by the Dutch Open University, estimates that particulate matter of tyre wear and tear is responsible for 130,000 to 300,000 deaths worldwide. 

Researchers calculated this number by gathering data on car use and mileage from thirteen different countries: eight Western European countries, Australia, India, Brazil, China and the United States. This data represents about half of the world’s population and 60% of the vehicles worldwide. The researchers then calculated that the global average of emitted tyre dust per person equals an average of 0.8 kilograms per year. The average in the Netherlands is about half a kilogram of tyre particles per person per year.

Pathways into the environment

Particulate matter consists of 3% to 7% tyre dust. But these tyre dust particles are not only airborne; they also contribute to the plastic soup in rivers and oceans. An estimated 5% to 10% of the plastics found in the ocean can be attributed to tyre dust. This makes tyre dust, after discarded plastic waste, the second largest source of microplastics in the environment.

Next steps

There is currently no alternative material available for car tyres. However, the researchers suggest several mitigating policies. The wear and tear of tyres will decrease with the use of wear resistant tyres, open asphalt concrete for roads and self-driving cars. In addition, the researchers suggest an increased efficiency in capturing microplastics by waste water treatment plants should reduce the amount microplastics in rivers and oceans. 


Also read:

We eat drink and breathe more than 100000 microplastics per year

Tyre particles and microfibers from clothing are a major source of plastic soup

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It’s raining microplastics, everywhere and every day

Amsterdam, April 17, 2019 – Sometimes the wind brings sand from the Sahara to the Netherlands. The sky can turn orange from it and, with light rain, everything can be covered with a layer of reddish dust. Researchers have turned their attention to microplastics in the air. These also appear to be settling out of the air and able to travel long distances. As a result, they end up everywhere, even in remote natural areas.

New study

In the mountains of the French Pyrenees, far from civilization, it was investigated how many microplastics fall out of the air onto the ground every day. Samples were taken over a five-month period, and measured both dry and wet (carried by raindrops) deposition. On average 249 plastic pieces were found per square meter per day, 73 pieces of film and 44 fibers. Calculations showed that the wind could transport these microplastics easily over a distance of 95 kilometers, and presumably over much longer distances. The article appeared in Nature Geoscience.

Two previous investigations

While quite a lot of research is being done into microplastics that find their way elsewhere via water, our knowledge about microplastics in the air is still very limited. In 2016, microfibre fallout was measured for the first time. In Paris and in a suburb of Paris, the microfibers settling out of the air every day were recorded. Between two and 355 microfibers per square meter per day were counted. Last year, Chinese researchers found that the daily fallout in the Chinese city of Dongguan was between 175 and 313 microplastics per square meter. Most of the microplastics there were synthetic microfibers.


Read also – Microfibers Fallout

Read also – How damaging is breathing in microplastics?

 

 

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Microplastic fibers found in amphipods in deepest point of the ocean

Amsterdam, 27 March 2019 – Animals living in the deepest place of the world ingested plastic. The seafloor of the Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines, lies almost eleven kilometres below the surface of the sea. Last year researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. And the concentration of plastic particles was the highest, with 335 particles of mainly single-use plastics per square kilometre, at a depth of six kilometres.

Shocking discovery

And now, there has been another shocking discovery. In the deeps of the Mariana Trench lives a species of amphipods (Lysianassoidea amphipod) and marine biologists of Newcastle University, who study marine life in the trenches of the Pacific Ocean, wondered if plastic would be present in these amphipods. The researchers sampled 90 amphipods from the MarianaTrench and five other oceanic trenches.

Photo: Newcastle University

Mainly synthetic fibers

The result is shocking: 72% of the amphipods contained at least one particle of plastic. In the MarianaTrench all the amphipods contained plastic. And 84% of the microplastic fibers originated from synthetic clothing while 16% originated from other microplastics. In the least contaminated trench, the New Hebrides Trench, still half of the sampled amphipods contained plastic. The largest fiber was a few millimetres long, purple, twisted in the shape of an eight, and found in an amphipod barely a few centimetres tall.

This Newcastle University study is the first time proof that even animals living in the deepest locations on Earth ingest microplastics.


Also read: Plastic found in the deepest part of the ocean

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My plastic diary

Seven o’clock, and there’s an icy storm blowing outside. My warm fleece jumper is covered in cat’s hairs, so I give it a good shake. Plastic microfibers fly all over the place. They get in to my lungs, and for all I know they settle in to the lung tissue. With dirt and all, as the jumper was not too clean. I’m glad I don’t have asthma.

It’s time to get blown away in the park on my morning walk. There’s an empty plastic chips tray floating in the pond. I fish it out and throw it in the rubbish bin. Some viruses and bacteria feel very much at home on plastic, more so than in the wild. I bet they have now hitched a lift on the tiny scraps of plastic that have stayed behind on my fingertips.

A little later, I’m struggling through a complicated report. I can’t seem to concentrate. Is that lack of caffeine, or is my brain full of plastic as well? I wash that last thought away with a big sip of cappuccino.

My tummy begins to rumble. Biological multigrain crackers, cheese and humus on the menu: all hygienically packed in plastic. My lunch has been surreptitiously seasoned with tiny pieces of nanoplastic. They end up in my intestines and who knows, maybe they pass through my intestinal wall in to my blood and lymphatic system. That doesn’t seem healthy: but maybe I will be well-preserved…..

I have a productive afternoon, typing away on my plastic keys, using my mobile in its nice plastic protective cover, making notes with my plastic pen. And then it’s time to clear my head with a run.  My comfy synthetic sports clothes leave minute plastic particles on my skin, so small that they might be able to worm their way in to my cells. I make way for a brand-new mother with a pram. Did her baby already feed on plastic in the womb, via the placenta and the umbilical cord? He looks quite normal….

The running clothes go straight in to the washing machine and the dryer, so that they are nice and fresh for tomorrow.  As soon as I open the door of the dryer, another cloud of microfibers makes a beeline for my lungs.

Hubby is in the kitchen, stirring mussels and fish through the paella. They, of course, have been eating from the plastic soup in the ocean. The plastic has been accumulating in their fishy bodies, and will now move in to mine. When I go to bed later for a well-earned sleep, illegal micro- and nanoplastics may be pioneering their way through my body. If that is indeed the case, then I hope that my immune system will arrest them and throw them out, just as it would with other foreign bodies: although it’s not known whether that actually works with plastic.

Tomorrow, seven o’clock, a new plastic day begins. A new round of breathing, eating and drinking plastic. Fifteen researchers are going to investigate what that has been doing to my health. That’s both good and bad news. I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle, but for certainty’s sake I should maybe start a plastic diet…….

 

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Photo by Jeroen Gosse