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?


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: 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.


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


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

Worldwide sustainability goals also include the plastic soup

Amsterdam, 3 October 2018 – The waste that the world produces will increase by 70% by 2050. This is the main conclusion of the What a Waste 2.0 report published by the World Bank last month. It is not a cheerful conclusion. Unless drastic measures are taken, the waste that ends up in the sea will increase as the world’s population and its purchasing power increase. A shocking observation is that 93% of the rubbish in low-income countries is dumped in landfills in the open air compared to 2% in high-income countries. Plastic is the biggest evil because it does not degrade and it pollutes the oceans. Plastic that is dumped in the open air often blows away and ends up in the sea.

What a Waste 2.0 asserts that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 offer a framework for action. Some of the SDGs’ targets are related to reducing waste production and plastic waste production. Countries are required to make efforts and put measures in place so that the SDGs are attained in 2030. The SDGs place the plastic soup firmly on countries’ and organisations’ sustainability agenda.

The Plastic Soup Foundation has clearly shown the relationship between the SDGs and the plastic soup. While none of the 17 SDGs has the plastic soup as a main theme, the relationship between the SDGs and the war on the plastic soup is irrefutable. The fight against the plastic soup involves:

 preventing plastic from entering the environment;
 avoiding health risks;
 absolute reduction in plastic.

Read here about how these three points are incorporated in the individual SDGs.

No orcas left due to PCBs

Amsterdam, 2 October 2018 – Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic organic compounds which hardly break down in the environment and accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. PCBs have been used on a large scale for a long time because of certain properties, among other things as a flame retardant in plastics. In the Stockholm Convention for persistent organic pollutants (2001) which was signed by 152 countries, it was agreed to stop production and use of PCBs because of their harmfulness. Most countries had already banned PCBs. The problem is that the PCBs are still widely found in the environment and particularly affect the fertility of animals.

An international research team has now established that populations of the orca or killer whale (Orcinus orca) are threatened in their survival worldwide. The article reporting this appeared in Science. Since orcas are at the top of the food chain, the concentration of PCBs in their fatty tissue is extremely high. According to a post by the Dutch national broadcasting organization NOS, PCB values of 1300 milligrams per kilo of were measured in the fatty tissue of orcas, while 50 milligrams already would have an adverse effect on fertility. Newborn orcas are hardly seen anymore. The extinction of the species could be a matter of a few decades. The news is particularly serious, because nothing more can be done anymore to prevent this.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The world has delayed banning PCBs for years. As early as the 1960s their harmfulness was known and not until 2001 a worldwide ban was agreed. Even now additives, such as flame retardants, are added to plastic. These additives leak from the plastic into water and are known to be harmful. The sad example of the killer whales shows us the importance of a preventive ban on these substances, i.e. as a precaution and not after their harmfulness has been proven in detail and the harmful substances can no longer be removed from the environment.”

Plastic soup on land: agricultural compost is polluted with plastic

Amsterdam, 29 September 2018 – The Dutch regulations do not consider plastic waste as an emission problematic to the environment. As a result, plastic soup also occurs on land. Farmers buy compost that is contaminated with small pieces of plastic and pollute their own ground. The main cause is that green waste handed in by consumers is often polluted with plastic: composting companies cannot remove all of this plastic. Verge clippings polluted with litter are also mentioned as a cause.

A farmer from Abbenes, North Holland, is very concerned about this plastic in the compost. He has now stopped using it to improve the fertility of his soil. NH News reported about the farmer and found that the law allows a maximum of five kilos of plastic in 1000 kilos of compost.

The legal quality requirements for compost are laid down in the Implementation Order Manure Law, but in practice these requirements do not prevent large amounts of (micro)plastics being present in compost. Clear Government rules with a control and enforcement system are lacking. The Trade Association Organic Residues (BVOR) uses the hallmark Keurcompost. This hallmark has three quality categories (A, B, and C) that have different standards for contaminants like glass and plastic. All three categories are stricter than the Dutch laws. According to the sector only the classes A and B should be used as organic soil improver as from 1 January 2017. But even the Keurcompost hallmark still allows 0.05% pollution in every 1000 kilos of the strictest variant of quality compost: that is half a kilo of plastic chips.

In fact, far worse quality compost appears to be on sale than the quality recommended by the sector. For the time being there is no legal framework to regulate this. In addition, there is no knowledge whatsoever about the presence of microplastics.

At the beginning of this year German researchers warned that microplastics on land are an underexposed problem and can eventually lead to greater damage than the plastic in the sea. They found microplastics on agricultural land all over the world.

Even earlier, in 2015, PSF pleaded for a legal standard for plastic leakage to the environment, then following diaper plastic in compost.

Suzanne Kröger, Member of Parliament for GroenLinks, announced Parliamentary questions on the legal standards.

Also read: Nieuwe vrijstellingsregeling zorgt voor meer verspreiding van zwerfplastic
Also read: CPB: ‘meer plastic inzamelen helt niet in strijd tegen plastic soup’

Photo: Mountain of plastic taken out of green waste by a composting company.