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Microplastics now found in underground drinking water reservoirs

Amsterdam, 05 February 2019 – Microplastics are found in surface water all over the world. Now for the first time they have also been found in underground layers of soil and rock that contain water. About one quarter of the drinking water provision in the world depends on underground water reservoirs. These reservoirs are filled with surface water that slowly seeps through the porous layers. As these reservoirs are connected to surface water sources, these latter sources can becomepolluted.

Researchers studied 17 samples from two separate underground reservoir systems in Illinois, USA. Their research was published this month in the journal Groundwater. All the samples bar one showed microplastics. The maximum concentration was 15 microplastics per litre. All microplastics were fibres. Given the combination of the microplastics and other substances that included phosphates, chloride and triclosan, the researchers believe that the source of the pollution is primarily household septic tanks.

Households that are not connected to the sewage system use these tanks for waste water as a purification system. The sludge is regularly removed and the purified water is discharged in the surface water. The waste water of washing machines and dryers also enters these tanks first. Machine washing and drying synthetic clothing releases millions of plastic microfibres. Given that these fibres are virtually weightless, they do not sink to the bottom. In an interview, one of the authors stated, “Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibres find their way into the septic tanks in only one wash. And then imagine how easily the water from the septic tanks can enter the groundwater, and certainly in the places where the surface water and the groundwater are directly
connected.”

In the Netherlands, households that are further than 40 metres from a sewer may discharge purified waste water from a septic tank into the surface water. Nothing is set down by law in the Besluit lozing afvalwater huishoudens (provision on discharging household waste water, in Dutch) to prevent plastic microfibres from entering the environment in this way.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “It is extremely worrying that groundwater appears to contain microplastics. To what extent are septic tanks indeed the source? We expect questions to be asked in the House of Representatives so that the scale of this source of pollution and what can be done about it are made known.”

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Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

Plastic Soup Foundation organizes a pellet count in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, 28 January 2019 – At the start of this month freighter MSC Zoe lost at least 292 containers, some of which were filled with pellets. Pellets, also called nurdles and no more than 5 millimeters big, are used to make plastic products. The beach of Schiermonnikoog was covered with millions of these plastic granules. Because they can have a huge ecological impact on the fragile nature of the mudflats, the University of Groningen is investigating where they ended up. Contrary to larger pieces of plastic, these pellets can barely be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the loss of the millions of pellets on the Wadden Sea wasn’t an exception. In October 2017 nurdles from two cargo ships entered the ocean near the South African harbor town of Durban, after which a massive amount washed ashore. Furthermore, a recent Danish report shows that an extraordinary number of pellets were found in the environment around Danish plastic factories – the royal warrant holders of Lego. In May 2018 around 450.000 pellets were found on just one beach in Scotland; twelve miles from the Ineos Polymers factory where they are produced. And in 2016 English consultant Eunomia calculated that up to 53 billion plastic pellets are lost and end up in the environment in the United Kingdom alone.

It is not surprising that pellet loss is considered to be one of the major causes of the plastic soup. Yet there is no national or international organization monitoring it. Because this has actually been a known problem for a long time, plastic manufacturers have voluntarily united in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). By its own account, this industrial initiative applies the best possible practices to prevent pellets from ending up in the ocean. But basically, the industry has free rein and is never fined or confronted. The past 25 years the OCS has also never had to publicly show their accountability. MacKerron, vice president of the American NGO As You Sow: “Operation Clean Sweep provides no transparency on the scope and nature of spills or efforts made to clean up. Given what we know about the alarming rates of plastic leakage into oceans, companies can no longer hide behind vague pledges of best practices. They need to provide prompt and detailed disclosure about specific actions taken to prevent spills, and when spills occur, information on spill size, and actions taken to clean up.”

As You Sow has called to account the American pellet manufacturers Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil and Philips 66 during shareholders’ meetings, and have demanded the creation of at least yearly reports that map the spills, describe which measures have been taken and how the spills were cleaned up.

It is extremely important to gather evidence, so we can enforce measures that lead to the industry taking care of transport without pellet loss. Where and in what concentrations are the pellets found on coastlines and shores? Everyone can simply help build this data with a smartphone, whether alone or in a group. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place between Friday 8 and Sunday 17 February.

With that in mind The Plastic Soup Foundation will organize various pellet counts in the Netherlands that week, at new and still secret hot spot locations in places such as Zeeland and Limburg. Join us and sign up by e-mailing michielp@plasticsoupfoundation.org. You will then receive more information on dates, times and locations.

The plastic soup is also a planetary boundary

Amsterdam, 16 January 2019 – The oceans are under pressure due to the increase of the plastic soup. Plastic affects not just individual animals, but also penetrates food chains. An important question is whether the plastic soup has a critical limit. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has indicated nine planetary boundaries for the Earth, among which climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and chemical pollution. When these planetary boundaries are exceeded, ecological restoration is almost impossible. Plastic pollution is not yet in this list.

Scientists have recently argued that plastic soup should also be one of the planetary boundaries. At least two of the three criteria for the planetary boundary of chemical pollution are also valid for the plastic soup: plastic in the environment is irreversible (it is not or hardly possible to clean up, particularly the microplastics) and plastic is present everywhere (and the concentration increases). The third criterion is the disruptive effect on marine ecosystems, or even wider: the effect on System Earth. To date, the question how the plastic soup affects this system, remains unanswered. To that end, it first needs to be determined how exactly this effect can be established. But, according to the researchers, plastic pollution certainly has all kinds of ecological consequences and hence there is every reason to believe that plastic also has or will have a negative effect on System Earth.

The researchers have also a pragmatic reason to include the plastic soup in the widely accepted framework of the planetary boundaries. It will then presumably be easier to reach agreement on the international approach; curbing the plastic soup internationally has not been successful yet.

Large donation by C&A Foundation for new educational materials on plastic soup

Amsterdam, 14 January 2019 – The 12-15 year-old age group is responsible for a relatively large amount of litter. Young children understand perfectly well that you should not drop plastic in the environment, but that changes when they become teenagers. Being environmentally aware does not mean you act that environmental awareness. Secondary school children are infamous for the trail of litter they leave behind from the sweet shop to school.

Thanks to two donations by the C&A Foundation, (amounting to almost €50,000) and sponsor campaigns by a number of secondary schools, the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) is able to develop special educational materials for this age group. This is being done in cooperation with Globe Nederland, an international network of schools and scientists that study the environment. The lessons handle the causes of, consequences of and possible solutions to plastic soup. The schoolchildren also do their own research into plastic soup, for example by quantifying and analyzing litter near their school.

The lessons for secondary school first and second year pupils is due to be available in the coming school year (2019-2020). This age group is sensitive to social media messages, which is why Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter will be used extensively.

Maria Westerbos, managing director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are especially pleased with the generous donations by the C&A Foundation and a number of schools. This enables us together with Globe Nederland to teach school children about plastic soup, motivate them to stop dropping litter in the environment and above all to reduce their use of plastics.”

 

Winter Photo Contest 2018: Winners Announced

Amsterdam, 03 January 2019 – Towards the end of 2018, we conducted a photo contest and asked people to submit photographs that express their personal encounters with plastic pollution and what they made out of it. The response that we got was tremendous. Not only because so many people participated, but also because every participant had more than one picture to contribute. This shows the extent of plastic pollution that seeps into every nook and cranny of our surroundings.

Choosing the winners has been a very difficult decision because of the quality of the pictures as well as the enthusiasm of all the participants and their dedication to the cause was exceptional. Of all the pictures submitted, 3 powerful and creative images grabbed our attention. Below, we present you with the three winners of our photo contest and their story and motivation behind the pictures:

3. The Kid and the Fish, by Elza Zijlstra

 

“Since 4 years, I collect plastic from beaches worldwide and turn it into art. I mostly search for small pieces of plastic and was amazed to discover how every beach, even when it looks clean at first sight, is polluted. My art is mostly bright and does not force a message upon people. For this contest however, I wanted to show the relation between environment, food, fish and humans and show the magnitude of the problem. I think art is a powerful tool in the battle against plastic. During exhibitions I always notice that people are impressed that it is possible to fill a whole exhibition room with beach trash. And while watching the art of plastic soup, discussions about pollution start immediately.”

 

2. Black Water Dive, by Mae Dorricott

“This image was one I shot during a Black water dive in Indonesia. Black water diving is basically a night dive but over deep water, where you’re able to see the plankton and larvae of reef creatures come out of the darkness towards your torch lights like moths to a flame. The biodiversity of these waters are like no other, but just as abundant is the plastic. I thought it was a jellyfish at first as my torch glinted over it, yet alas, it was a fragment of plastic. With a young reef fish using it as shelter, darting this way and that.”

 

1. Manta Bay, by Brooke Pyke

“For quite a while now I have been spending a lot of time diving east of Bali, Indonesia on a small Island called Nusa Penida. I currently dive very regularly, 2 times a day 6 days a week. Over time you do see big changes in the ocean. From natural seasonal changes as you would expect but other changes as well. Marine debris such as plastic pollution has become a more and more common sight for us here in Penida and I know only too well that this is not even the tip of the ‘trash-burg’ so to say. With approx. 8 million tons of trash ending up in our oceans every year, the amount I see daily is only a small part. The enormity of plastic in the water can at times be so overwhelming and incredibly depressing. It makes you feel helpless as you try to scoop up as much as you can on the dive and fill your BCD pockets with the trash knowing you’re barely making any difference. Practically grabbing plastic bags and packaging, straws and water cups out of the way of the Mantas so they don’t swallow it. But this is just the big pieces. In regards to Manta Rays who are filter feeders the microplastics are really the problem here which are often so small you can’t even see them. The plastic trash we see around the islands here is not an all year round issue but it certainly is becoming worse every year.

There was a dive this year I had at Manta bay (when i took these photos) and the amount of trash was immense. From anything like plastic take away cutlery, to tampons, nappies, laundry liquid packaging… you name it I saw it. I had some guests diving with me at the time and I was actually embarrassed. It’s like taking a good hard look in the mirror and seeing just what we are doing to this planet. Coming up from the dive my guests instantly were looking for someone to blame and asking why is no one doing anything about it. It’s so easy to blame the governments, manufacturers and companies selling these products who of course have some responsibility. I feel we should also start looking more at ourselves and what ways do we contribute to this problem.

Going back to the topic of ‘microplastics’ which is a huge issue here when you think of filter feeding marine megafauna such as Mantas. As you can imagine an animal that has to filter thousands of litres of water per day to obtain adequate nutrition. Micro plastics harbor high levels of toxins and chemical pollutants which are introduced to their body via digestion. These toxin accumulate over time and can cause disruption of biological processes and can even be passed from mother to offspring.”

Plastic pollution & health Photo Contest

Do you care about the environment and are concerned about plastic pollution? Are you a photographer or you enjoy taking pictures? We are launching a PHOTO CONTEST for pictures related to plastic pollution and the health of both the environment and our own.

There are three prizes for the best pictures!

Third prize: three cotton bread bags from Wishing Whale & natural coconut deodorant from Dutch DIY brand Leven Zonder Afval & biological bar soap from Dutch brand Werfzeep & kids bamboo toothbrush from Humble Brush & solid shampoo bar from Lamazuna & solid toothpaste from Lamazuna

Second prize: reusable stainless steel straws from Klean Kanteen & three cotton bread bags from Wishing Whale & natural coconut deodorant from Dutch DIY brand Leven Zonder Afval & biological bar soap from Dutch brand Werfzeep & kids bamboo toothbrush from Humble Brush & solid shampoo bar from Lamazuna & solid toothpaste from Lamazuna

First prize: silver necklace with plastic soup specially retrieved in Hawaii & bracelet from MBRC the Ocean & three cotton bread bags from Wishing Whale & natural coconut deodorant from Dutch DIY brand Leven Zonder Afval & biological bar soap from Dutch brand Werfzeep & kids bamboo toothbrush from Humble Brush & solid shampoo bar from Lamazuna & solid toothpaste from Lamazuna

If you want to participate you just need to send your pictures to photocontest@plasticsoupfoundation.org and add your name, address and phone number in the email. We will not use your personal data for anything else that is not related to this photo contest. You have time until Monday 17th of December.

Check out the prizes!

First prize

Second prize

Third prize

 

 

 

 

 

 


Legal clause:

By entering Plastic Soup Foundation’s Photo Contest, you retain the rights to your works while granting Plastic Soup Foundation the non-exclusive, worldwide, unrestricted, royalty-free, perpetual right to use, publish, reproduce, communicate, modify and display the works (in whole or in part) for any purpose, in any form without any fee or other form of compensation, and without further notification or permission.

By participating in this contest, you release and agree to indemnify and hold harmless Plastic Soup Foundation and its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, agents, judges, publishers and advertising and promotional agencies from any and all damages, injuries, claims, causes of actions, or losses of any kind resulting from your participation in this contest, usage of your works and/or receipt or use of any prize.

By entering this contest, you agree to have read and conform to our privacy statement that ca be found here. The personal data of the contestants that will be collected for this contest, will only be used for the purpose of this contest and to inform on and contact the winners. Personal data will be removed within a reasonable period after the contest.

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.

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.

European PET lobby falls short

Amsterdam, 28 September 2018 – France is one of the countries at the forefront in the fight against the plastic soup. Two years ago it banned the thin plastic bag. Not long after the ban on disposable tableware per 2020 was issued. Last summer drinking straws and plastic stirrers were banned and on 14 September the law was tightened even further, according to a report in Le Monde.  Now the availability of plastic containers and disposable articles in schools, universities and day-care centres is also prohibited per 1 January 2020. The measure benefits the environment, but is a thorn in the side of the European PET industry because of turnover losses.

The PET industry in Europe is represented by Petcore Europe and PET Sheet Europe. Together they have published a press release which states that the latest adaptation of the French law is in conflict with European legislation, in particular with the right to bring packaging onto the market and with the free movement of goods. Europe must first have its legal framework in order, before an individual country can pass such a ban. Whether this reasoning holds, is to be decided by lawyers.

In addition, the press release offers a sobering glimpse of how an industry that is increasingly under pressure, responds to Government measures to ban single-use plastics. The PET industry claims to be committed to the environment, but promotes a different solution. PET can be recycled optimally and the PET industry therefore urgently calls on European legislators to introduce a well-functioning system for the collection of plastic packaging “in order to close the loop”. The underlying idea is that PET can then continue to be produced without limits.

It really says: “the loop must be closed”. The PET industry is well aware that this is impossible, but does not breathe a word about it. For example, if clothing that is made from used PET, such as fleece sweaters, is machine washed and dried, plastic microfibres are produced. These are consequently transported with the waste water and can no longer be filtered out. The European Mermaids Life+ study revealed that the average release is 9 million fibres per wash. The PET industry is co-responsible for this great source of pollution and does precisely nothing.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Petcore Europe and PET Sheet Europe should be ashamed. They do everything to maintain a polluting production system as long as they possibly can. It is high time that the European Union enforces mandatory reduction measures and also takes into account the adverse effects of recycling, such as the microfibres from clothing that is made of PET. But of course: cheers for daredevil France, which once more sets the right example. “

SodaStream: “F*CK PLASTIC BOTTLES”

Amsterdam, September 26 – SodaStream is offering an alternative to plastic drinking bottles. The SodaStream machine turns tap water into sparkling water. You won’t need to carry around plastic bottles anymore – in fact, you won’t even need plastic bottles at all. The company is market leader in the creation of sparkling water, and is active in at least 46 countries. It’s known for its ad campaign, in which traditional beverage companies felt attacked on their contribution to the plastic soup, sending the message that disposable plastic bottles damage the environment. The clip Shame or Glory, which uses people from the Game of Thrones TV-series, is a good example. The company, which also produces T-shirts that feature the text F*ck Plastic Bottles, was recently bought by PepsiCo for 3.2 billion dollars.

It’s not surprising, then, that the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) demanded in late 2016 that SodaStream end their campaign. Their demand was dismissed as unfounded.

The Royal Belgian Industry Association for Waters And Soft Drinks (VIWF) also sued, specifically against SodaStream Benelux, but their complaints were also dismissed as unfounded.

In late 2017, several VIWF members then sued SodaStream Benelux. Coca-Cola, Nestlé Waters, Spadel, Danone, and Roxane Nord demanded a periodic penalty payment of 50,000 euros a day as long as the campaign was still available. The campaign, they said, was humiliating for consumers of plastic. The Brussels appellate court refuted the multinationals’ claims, and motivated that SodaStream’s message “concerns essential and socially relevant information”.

Now SodaStream has once again won its case, the company is considering to file a 10 million euro damages claim against the claimants in the near future. SodaStream Benelux’ General Manager, Johan Schepers, declared: “We intend to gift the money to the Plastic Soup Foundation, if SodaStream’s claim is confirmed by the court.”

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We’re pleasantly surprised by the announcement from SodaStream Benelux to donate the money to us in case the announced claim is confirmed by the court. In turn, we’d donate five million euros to projects all over the world that, like us, fight against plastic soup. We’ll use the other half for scientific research, its dissemination, and education. With this much money, the Plastic Soup Foundation will be able to fight the fight against plastic soup much more effectively.”