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Banks and insurance companies in the Netherlands invest billions in shale gas and plastic production

Amsterdam, 16 July 2019 – Most major banks and insurers in the Netherlands invest heavily in companies that extract shale gas and produce plastics. ING is the largest financier of shale gas and plastics. Aegon and Allianz are the largest investors. Between 2010 and this year, the banks a total of 5.3 billion dollars to the gas and plastic companies examined. Banks and insurers invest 4 billion dollars in these companies.

This was established by the new practical research of the Fair Banking and Insurance Guide in collaboration with the Plastic Soup Foundation. Click here to read the report Plastic Finance; How Dutch financial institutions enable shale gas to fuel the plastic soup disaster. The report establishes the first direct relationship between investments in shale gas and plastic production and the increase in plastic soup on rivers, seas and oceans.

Fracking for Plastic

Due to cheap shale gas, production or (packaging) plastic has been increasing considerably. Since 2010, no less than 204 billion dollars has been invested in the United States in the expansion of plastic production based on ethane, a component or shale gas. Ethane is also transported to Europe with mammoth tankers. New plastic plants are being built in Antwerp to crack this ethane. Ethane is cheaper than the petroleum derivative naphta, traditionally used as raw material used for production of plastic. Ethane is used to make ethylene, a basis for all types of plastics such as PET and polyethylene.

Shale gas extraction is also a growing industry in Argentina. But plastic production is just one of many reasons why shale gas does not fit into a sustainable investment strategy. During loading, transport and handling of virgin plastic, many nurdles (the industrial base pellet) and up in the environment. These small plastic pellets are used as a semi-finished product in the production of virtually all plastic products.

Image Text: Does your bank pollute the world with plastic?

Investments by Dutch banks and insurance companies

The seven largest Dutch banks and the nine largest insurance groups in the Netherlands were investigated by the Fair Banking and Insurance Guide. Insurers Aegon and Allianz were found to be the largest investors in shale gas and plastics. On the reference date (18-20 February of this year), the stock portfolios of the joint Dutch banks and insurance companies in this sector had a total value of almost 4 billion dollars.

When it comes to loans, ING is largest by far, followed by ABN Amro. These figures are found in public sources on the financing of the ten selected shale gas and plastic companies. The total investments in shale gas and plastic companies are probably much higher.

Shale gas and plastic: a blind spot

The adverse effects of shale gas extraction on the environment and climate are well-known and are an increasing topic of conversation among investors. The direct relationship between shale gas and the production of plastic and, consequently, the leakage of plastic disposable products into the plastic soup in seas is underexposed and unknown to many market parties.

As a result of their investments in companies such as Shell, Exxon Mobil, DowDuPont and Chevron, banks and insurers play a role in the rapid growth of plastic production. All banks and insurers say they embrace the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals also include protection of the climate and the oceans. Investments in shale gas companies and companies that produce plastics are directly opposed to achieving the SDGs.

Bank’s claim to worry about the plastic soup, but often have no policy regarding investment in plastic production. Rabo, NIBC, Volksbank (including ASN) and Triodos exclude, in whole or in part, investment companies that realize their turnover from the extraction of shale gas. ING’s policy allows shale gas extraction outside Europe only. No clear policy was found among the other banks and insurers. When it comes to investments in plastic and / or plastic producing companies, only Triodos and Volksbank have restrictive policy. The Fair Bank Guide, Fair Insurance Guide and Plastic Soup Foundation encourage all banks and insurers to clarify their investment policy and place shale gas on the exclusion list of investments.

The Fair Money Guide

The Fair Money Guide examines whether banks and insurance companies do not invest your money in things like animal abuse, arms trafficking or child labor. On their website anyone can check the scores or banks and insurers on these and other topics. The Fair Money Guide, which consists of the Fair Bank Guide and the Fair Insurance Guide, is a collaboration of Amnesty International, FNV, Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Oxfam Novib, PAX and World Animal Protection. Plastic Soup Foundation supports the objective of the Fair Money Guide on the plastic issue. Send the banks and insurers a complaint or tweet via the website honestegeldwijzer.nl

Also read – Press release Fair money guide

Also read – Does the Rutte Cabinet really want less plastic?

Also read – Ineos invests 3 billion euros in plastic plants in Antwerp

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Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight

Amsterdam, 13 June 2019 – It is well known that we drink, eat and breathe plastic particles. But how many are there and how harmful it is for our health? This week the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a study and comes up with new information. The main conclusion in the publication No plastic in nature: assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people is that we may ingest 5 grams of plastic per week, as much as the weight of a credit card. The researchers base their conclusions on existing studies and rightly express many reservations.

 New WWF campaign

The report, which calls on Governments to take drastic action to fight the plastic soup and also advocates that much more research needs to be done, is accompanied by a new campaign launched by the WWF. The campaign has the shocking weekly amount of 5 grams of plastic that a person ingests as its theme. This is compared to daily objects such as a pen, a credit card or a dice, to get the message across how much plastic you ingest. Although this campaign will reach a wide audience, some nuance is called for.

Emphasis on weight says little

The research was carried out by the University of Newcastle in Australia. For their calculation researchers estimated the weight of the plastic particles. They take as their starting point an estimated weekly ingestion of 2000 plastic particles, a total weight of 5 grams. We are assumed to ingest about 90% through drinking water, through tap water and in particular through bottles of water. A study that was published last year (and to which the researchers also refer), found microplastics in 93% of the 259 bottles of mineral water that were studied, an average of 325 particles per litre. However, the vast majority— 315 particles — are ultra-small particles. So small that their weight cannot be determined.  Earlier this week, also a Canadian study on Human Consumption or Microplastics was published. According to this research the annual ingestion is 50,000 particles. These too are ultra-small particles that weigh virtually nothing.

Emphasis should be on size

Precisely those ultra-small particles, called nanoplastics, are most relevant for human health. More accurately: the particles that are almost insignificant in weight, are probably the most harmful. These can penetrate cell membranes and make their way into the organs. Larger particles, of which the weight can be determined, are usually defecated. It must be noted that there are still no standard methods to assess the risks of micro- and nanoplastics in the body.

Plastic Health Coalition

To find out how dangerous micro- and nanoplastics really are, the Plastic Soup Foundation has initiated a partnership in which scientists and environmental organisations work together: The Plastic Health Coalition. Earlier this year, ZonMW, The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, started fifteen studies into the effects of micro-and nanoplastics in this framework. On 3 October 2019, during the Plastic Health Summit, the first results are to be presented.


Also read:

ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Camera in Wageningen captures coral eating plastic

Amsterdam, 12 June 2019 – Filmed for the first time: coral eating microplastics. And they even seem to enjoy it. A marine biologist from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) has the disturbing primeur.

Coral normally feeds on plankton. In 2015, researchers discovered that stony corals are unable to distinguish between plankton and microplastics when filtering water. Analysis at the time showed that 21% of the corals investigated contained at least one microplastic. Many animals mistake plastic for food, but coral does not have eyes. Other researchers therefore made the assumption in 2017 that corals eat plastic because they like the taste. The phenomenon has now been filmed.

Tasty additives?

Coral turns out to have a preference for clean plastic above plastic that is covered by a layer of bacteria. The plastic, itself, seems to be a treat for the plankton. It seems likely that this is the result of the chemical additives in plastic. The corals ate all of the different kinds of plastic that were tested, but showed no interest in sand. The coral can’t properly process the plastic that is swallowed. It is also clear that, as a result of the growing plastic pollution, corals more regularly come into contact with plastic.

Filmed: coral eating plastic

Tim Wijgerde, a marine biologist from Wageningen University, has been studying coral for years, specifically recovery and conservation of coral riffs. He has successfully filmed coral consuming various pieces of plastic. Wijgerde: “Although we already knew that corals can eat plastic, there were no clear recordings of this behaviour until now. So I set up a high-resolution camera above coral polyps in our coral lab in Wageningen, and fed the coral with pieces of plastic of about 2 millimetres. Within an hour it was evident that our coral also found the plastic very tasty. The next step will be to investigate how harmful microplastic is for the continued existence of coral.”

Watch Tim’s film, A Reef by Night and Day. The film runs for 12 minutes: The fragment alluded to above starts after 10 minutes and 40 seconds.


Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick

Mopping up with the plastic-soup tap left open….

Recycling. A word that makes me happy. Like the swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of the skipping rope as pretty young girls in their light summer frocks jump up and down on a glorious sunny day. The effortless movement that seems able to go on for ever, Leonardo da Vinci’s perpetual motion machine. Recycling sounds like healthy, economical and sensible. Something which everybody would support and to which nobody could object.

If I think of recycling, I think of pumpkin peel, broccoli stumps and all the other vegetable scraps that are left over in my kitchen: I drop it in the recycling bin and later on I buy it back as compost to pamper my garden. I think of my cupboards, too small to offer sanctuary to everything which I wanted to save. It’s all languishing in the second-hand shop now, waiting to start a new life in a new collection tomorrow. Nothing but praise for recycling.

Initially, recycling plastic also sounded like music to my ears. It sounded to me like a happy solution for the devilish problem of the plastic that has been taking a continually stronger grasp on our world: the plastic bottles, bags, chairs – what isn’t made of plastic these days? – that ends up as litter on our streets and in our rivers, flowing to the sea where it – disintegrating to ever-smaller pieces – chokes the stomachs of unfortunate birds and fish. Or the plastic microfibers that float through the air and threaten our health. Recycling seemed a decisive step in the battle against that kind of misery.

Until I started looking at the figures.

The amount of newly-produced, un-recycled plastic in the world is growing at a tremendous rate. An additional 380 billion tons in 2018, within 10 years that means 530 billion tons of plastic per year. Exactly how much ends up as litter – in the fields, in the water or in the air – is not known, at least 16 billion kilos per year, maybe a lot more. Large multinational companies argue that all their plastic packaging will use recycled raw materials by 2025. That sounds impossible to achieve, but apart from that: it’s still plastic packaging. And a percentage of that will still end up in the ocean, the “lungs” of the word. Or in our own lungs.

Now, if I think of plastic recycling, I no longer think of girls having fun with their skipping rope, but of poor wretches mopping up the mess while the plastic soup continues to gush from the open tap. A PET bottle made of recycled plastic may use less petroleum to produce than a bottle made of new plastic – and that’s good – but we will not solve The Big Plastic Problem by migrating to recycled plastic.

The only real solution has the simplicity of a light summer frock: bring less plastic products to market. As a start: no more single-use plastics, like PET bottles and plastic bags. And the plastic that does still reach the shelves: collect it efficiently, for example with a deposit scheme.

Surrounded as we are by so many clever people in this world, surely we can start this movement without too much trouble?

Swoosh…….Swoosh……..Swoosh……..

Plastic in compost responsible for extra local pollution

In the garden, you expect to be surrounded by a clean, natural environment: in reality, plastic is often an unexpected guest in the ground these days.  In many local authorities, it’s been the practice for many years to offer the residents free compost in the spring. This fertilizer turns out to often contain relatively large amounts of plastic particles. Waste processors do their best to make compost from polluted organic waste, but are thwarted by market forces. Truly clean compost costs a lot more, and the local authorities normally choose the cheaper variant which, although it satisfies legal requirements, is still polluted.

The Dutch provincial media company NH nieuws has done comprehensive research in to this form of plastic pollution, and highlights different aspects of the problem in their article: https://www.nhnieuws.nl/nieuws/245470/gemeenten-geven-vervuilde-compost-gratis-weg-aan-inwoners. One thing that is immediately apparent is that the local authorities are well aware of the problem, but that the rules are inadequate and that the standards are too broad.   When this polluted compost is applied year after year to the same garden plot, the result is a dangerous accumulation of plastic particles per square metre.

The Plastic Soup Foundation believes that plastic does not belong in the environment, the ground or in compost. The government should take steps to implement a zero-plastic norm for plastic pollution in compost. In the long run, this will be the only effective way to counter this form of plastic leakage.


Also read: Plastic soup on land agricultural compost is polluted with plastic

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.

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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

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“Do not reuse supermarket water bottles”

Amsterdam, 20 December 2018– Australian researchers recommend not to reuse plastic bottles, that, filled with water, are sold in supermarkets,

Professor Anas Ghadouani and his team at the University of Western Australia in Perth have tested metal and plastic water bottles. The immediate cause was that more and more people refill purchased bottles with tap water for environmental reasons; it means that you do not need to buy a bottle again and again. But how harmful is this refilling plastic bottles for your health?

According to Ghadouani glass and metal bottles are safest, especially bottles made from stainless steel. They are followed by the plastic bottles that are specially made to be reused, such as for instance a Dopper. The professor says that in general it is wise not to do this longer than one year.

Refilling PET bottles is nothing short of the worst option, as there will always be plastic particles in the water. Especially when you place such a bottle in the sun, many microplastics are released.

Read the university’s  press release.


Also read: Microplastics in bottled water

Protection from toxic chemicals in plastic fails

Amsterdam, 17 December 2018 – European legislation must ensure that consumers buy only safe products. There is a system to keep dangerous products from the market. Using the Rapid Alert System can national authorities can intervene quickly. In 2017, toys were the category with the most  interventions, as was reported by the European Commission.

A recent alert (Alert number A12/1843/18) concerns a plastic doll with accessories, made in China. Specified reasons to prohibit this toy are the large amount of plasticizers, phthalates DEHP and DBP, in the dolls (“These phthalates may harm the health of children, causing possible damage to the reproductive system”) and that this is not in accordance with REACH. Other countries are informed via the message and this results in the product being taken off the market. The Rapid Alert System has been effective.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of CHemicals) aims to reduce or ban the use of harmful substances and to promote the use of safer alternatives. Hazardous substances are referred to as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) and are placed on a list. The plasticizer DEHP is such an SVHC and has already been on this list since 2008.

However, companies can, in their turn, submit a request for permission to continue to produce or apply a SVHC in special cases anyway. In anticipation of that decision they are not required to stop their production. The problem is that the procedures may take years before a final decision is reached, while all this time harmful substances are being released.

In 2013, the Czech company DEZA put in a request to be allowed to continue to produce and use the plasticizer DEHP. The decision about that request will probably finally be made next week. Meanwhile, this company has also made appeals against ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) with the result that the procedure was delayed and, consequently, also procedures on other dangerous chemicals. This was found in an analysis by Politico: an American journalistic enterprise in the United States.

There is heavy criticism of companies that go to court with the intention to be able to continue to use dangerous substances. Last year, for example, PlasticsEurope, the lobby organisation of the European plastic industry, took the European Union to court to have BPA taken off the SVHC list, see this report from Euobserver. BPA is a hormone disrupting substance that still is widely added to plastic products.

There is also heavy criticism on the internal procedures of ECHA and REACH, because requests for exceptions do not only exceed a reasonable length, but nearly always are approved, whereas much safer alternatives are available. In the meantime, scientific evidence on the harmfulness of toxic chemicals also increases.

For more information read the overview Harmful Chemicals in Plastic: How They Still   permitted in the EU? compiled by the European Environmental Bureau.

Photo: Plastic doll made in China banned from the EU market

Read more – Alternatives for BPA are equally harmful.

Read more – Toxic Soup: dioxins in plastic toys.

 

 

Meuse used to dump contaminated, Belgian Soil

Amsterdam, 9 October 2018 –Foreign companies have free reign to dump contaminated and heavily polluted soil, sludge and sediments in the Netherlands. The soil is used to fill old sand mining pits, which can be up to 30 meters deep. Waste supplierspay huge sums of money to get rid of their waste and the owners of the pits make millions. The soil is, among others, polluted with plastics that float to the surface. So while volunteers do their utmost to clean riverbanks, polluted soil is deliberately dumped in areas in close connection to our rivers.

A group of concerned citizens, organized in a local organisation called Burgercollectief Dreumelse Waard researched the proceedings considering a local lake, Over de Maas, one of the sand and gravel pits in Dreumel, a village in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Downstream of this particular lake, where a lot of polluted soil has been dumped the organisation frequently found a specific type of orange plastic. This plastic is often used on building sites in Belgium, but rarely in the Netherlands. This plastic was not found upstream of the landfill site, providing a strong argument that it originated from the soil imported from Belgium. And according to the report of the organisation, PVC-pipes, car batteries, asbestos, bitumen, aerosol spray cans and scrap wood were found as well. However, Herman van der Linde, director of Nederzand, the company responsible for the raising of the lake floor of Over de Maas, states that it cannot be proven that this plastic originated from his project.

For the Over de Maas project the use of a total of 10,000,000 metric tons of soil is planned, and over 3,000,000 metric tons have been already deposited. According to current Dutch Soil Quality Decree, 20% of the soil’s weight can be foreign material. So if the rest of the soil is uncontaminated, in this Over de Maas example a maximum of 2,000,000 metric tons of plastic is allowed. The Vonkerplas is another lake which depth is to be adjusted. And the role of Staatsbosbeheer is remarkable. Staatsbosbeheer, a Dutch nature preservation organization and the owner of the lake, states in their information campaign that the raising of the lake floor is about restoring natural values. And restoring natural values or improving water quality are two exceptions that would allow soil from other areas to be deposited. The calculations of the Burgercollectief Dreumelse Waard (in this informative presentation) show that Staatsbosbeheer could make 45 million Euros with the Vonkerplas project. It would appear that Staatsbosbeheer does not value nature as highly as it should, if a lot of money can be made. But a few weeks ago, confronted with “the lack of support of the local population“, Staatsbosbeheer, the province of Gelderland and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management put the Vonkerplas project on the back burner.

Another party shirking its responsibilities in these soil dumping affaires is the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT). The ILT issues the permits to import foreign contaminated soil that is used to fill the sand and gravel pits. For example, the permit allows the deposition of 150,000 metric tons contaminated soil in Over de Maas; this equals 150 shipments dumped between 2010-2017. The ILT grants these permits with the knowledge that the soil can’t sufficiently be inspected.

The lake Over de Maas is exploited by a large syndicate of sand mining companies that represent 70% of the market. The import and inspection of the soil is outsourced to a small company with a total of 10 employees and only two inspectors. The Burgercollectief Dreumelse Waard has calculated that these two inspectors have to check 2645 shipments.


Also read: Plastic Soup on land agricultural compost is polluted with plastic