, ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a broader definition of the industry fools us all.


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


Amsterdam, 9 October 2018 – The Ocean Cleanup may have competition. The Ocean Saviour, a new initiative to clean up the ocean, was recently launched in Southampton.

The Ocean Saviour is the very first yacht designed to convert plastic waste into fuel. The yacht thus supplies its own fuel. Using booms, it collects plastic from the sea. The plastic is channelled on board and is shredded. It is then converted into fuel using plasma gasification. This technique was developed by PyroGenesis and was used for the first time on the American navy vessel, the Gerald R. Ford, as a solution to convert the vessel’s own waste. About 5 tons of plastic can be removed from the water every day.

In the design, the vessel is 70 metres long and has three decks. The lowest deck is entirely dedicated to processing plastic. The ship is estimated to cost 40 million euros to build and it is not known at present whether there are investors.

The Ocean Saviour is designed by Richard Roberts and Simon White, founders of Read more information here. This type of initiative has often proven unrealistic in the past for reasons such as technical feasibility and the lack of investors.

David Jones is closely involved in the project. He is a researcher at the University of Plymouth, is the founder of Justoneocean and the initiator of the Big Micro Plastic Survey of which the Plastic Soup Foundation is a partner. Jones is positive about the idea. “This project has enormous potential to help clean all the plastic waste in the ocean.”

Closing the plastic loop without the government is impossible

Amsterdam, 27 August 2018 Five years ago, the Dutch plastic cycle value chain agreement was signed and the participants declared to do their utmost to close the plastic loop. According to the information on their website, essential steps should have been put in place to create sustainable production processes, the promotion of plastic re-use on a large scale, through engineering and design solutions, and the collection of plastic waste in a environmentally friendly manner, within two years after signing the agreement.

However, the plastic loop is still open and, even worse, plastic producers actively frustrate these steps necessary to close the plastic loop. P-plus, the multimedia magazine for corporate social responsibility in the Netherlands, published an eye-opening interview with Peter Rem, TU Delft professor. He states that plastic producers deliberately prevent the recycling of their plastics, by adding components that make high-quality recycling virtually impossible, in order to protect their turnover. And therefore, thousands of different types of plastics have been created all of which have a slightly different chemical composition.

Peter Rem is of the opinion that the government should act by forcing plastic producers to take back their own plastics. Recycling must become and integral part of the production process. Rem: “The producer of Domestos, for instance, knows that their bottle will not be returned to them. They pay their monetary contribution to the Packaging Waste Fund so their bottles can be recycled into some lower quality product. Only if the bottle is returned to Domestos will it be interesting for them to recycle their bottles into new bottles.”

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We signed the plastic cycle value chain agreement full enthusiasm, but always remained of the opinion that the government should also implement the appropriate rules and regulations. Sadly, it turned out that the policies, based on the voluntary agreements, do not work. Therefore the government should ensure that recycling becomes an integral part of the production process, and not seen as just something that limits financial gains. Plastic producers should be ashamed.”



Waste2wear ocean plastic project

Amsterdam, 18 August 2018 – Since some days Waste2Wear textile products are for sale in Dutch shops. These products are made of waste plastic by Indian home weavers. Part of the waste plastic are bottles from the sea. This has multiple advantages: home weavers receive better pay, stray bottles are taken from the sea and there is more attention for the plastic soup.

The Waste2Wear website provides background information that indicates the need to reduce plastic pollution of the ocean. In support it says for instance: “Studies have also shown that thousands of pieces of microplastic are even consumed by humans through seafood and table salt every year.”

Many organizations are involved in the initiative. Waste2Wear, Chinese and Dutch universities, the Dutch Consulate in Shanghai, Chinese NGOs and a number of companies. They have jointly set themselves the goal to tackle the problem of the plastic soup through an innovative concept.

Waste2Wear may seem to be a sympathetic idea, but making textiles from plastic waste is not a solution. The website does not mention that those “thousands of pieces or microplastic” are to a large extent released byplastic clothing. When synthetic textiles are machine washed and dried, an average of 9 million microfibers are released in each 5 kilograms wash, according to a study that appeared last year.

Plastic Soup Foundation’s Managing Director Maria Westerbos: “We welcome the fact that attention is asked for the plastic soup, but the of Waste2Wear initiative is not a solution. The real solution lies in cutting back the use of plastic as a raw material. “


Swiss Alps: microplastics everywhere

Amsterdam, 4 May 2018 – By now it is almost too obvious to state that all across the world plastic is found in the environment. That it is actually true has been shown by a new Swiss study. Even in the most remote nature reserves high up in the mountains microplastics are being discovered and far more than researchers had expected. Moreover, The Guardian, who reports on the research, points out that Switzerland is the best-performing European country when it comes to collecting plastic waste. All the plastic is collected and then recycled or burned. Nevertheless, microplastics are found all around.

The research analyzed soil samples from 29 river catchment areas. The researchers found microplastics in 90% of the samples. There was a clear connection between high concentrations of microplastics and the presence of larger pieces of plastic, the mesoplastics. The microplastics in this instance seem to originate from plastic waste through fragmentation. A connection to population density was also shown; the higher the number of people in an area, the higher the concentration of microplastics.

Especially striking was the presence of microplastics in the remote national reserves, which can only be reached on foot. These mostly concerned very tiny plastic particles (<500 μm diameter). The researchers state that this is due to distribution through wind.

The research appeared in Environmental Science and Technology.

Also read: Poor air quality caused by microplastics

Food waste and plastic waste go hand in hand

Amsterdam, 10 April 2018 – A non-packaged tomato lasts a week, but if wrapped in plastic, it lasts twice as long. A cucumber lasts even three times as long thanks to its plastic covering. Is this why so much food is packaged in plastic? A report published today points to a major paradox. Unwrapped: How throwaway plastic is failing to solve Europe’s food waste problem (and what we need to do instead) shows that since single-use plastic packaging was introduced in the 1950s, not only has the amount of plastic waste increased, but also the amount of food waste. The two are growing in parallel while you would expect that the longer shelf-life of fresh foods would reduce food waste.

Marine garbage patches and food waste are two of the greatest social problems. The figures are unimaginable. Every European throws away 30 kilos of plastic waste and 70 kilos of food every year. Between 2004 and 2014, European households’ food waste doubled while discarded plastic packaging grew by 50% during this period. The economic value of wasted food in Europe in 2015 alone was estimated at 143 billion euros. Forecasts show that in 2020 in Europe, more than 900 billion packaged products (food and drink) will be sold.

Industry and retailers use food waste as a reason to wrap food in plastic. But in reality, the advantage is limited and there are other factors that explain the shelf life of food. Whether food is thrown away or not is not directly related to its longer shelf life. Food waste because of plastic rarely weighs up against the disadvantages of plastic in the environment. Producers mostly use plastic packaging to advertise their products, to transport food across long distances and to decide how much customers should buy at one go (just think about the number of fruit in a plastic net).

The report, compiled by Friends of the Earth, Zero Waste Europe and Rethink Plastic, pushes for a Europe wide approach that will drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste and food waste. Products do not always need to be packaged and the amount of plastic packaging can be greatly reduced. Unless it cannot be avoided, producers and retailers should always opt for packaging that can be reused.

And consumers? Wherever possible, they should always choose for no packaging.

Also read: Favourable outlook for natural branding and England introduces deposit system with coca colas support