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

Lessons from the container spill disaster in the Wadden Sea

Amsterdam, 7 January 2019 — An unprecedently large cleanup effort has already been underway for several days in the Wadden Sea area after the mega-containership MSC Zoe lost 270 containers due to serious weather conditions; several of these containers were filled with poisonous organic peroxide. Beaches in the area are littered with the washed-up mess, which includes a large amount of plastic as well. The military has been called in to help, and the mayors of Schiermonnikoog and Vlieland will have the damage covered by the shipowner. The shipping company is ensured, but environmental damage can never be precisely determined, which makes securing compensation difficult. Can lessons from this environmental disaster already be drawn on how to prevent similar incidents from occurring the future?
The unclear status of  “good environmental health”
Next year, the “good environmental status” of the North Sea, a provision set forth by the Dutch government, must be reached. This means that the north sea must be clean, healthy, and productive. Is this goal achievable? The governmental policy is focused on the top 10 most commonly found items on beaches. Items such as lint, pieces of plastic and polystyrene foam, plastic bottle caps, plastic bottles, and balloons are being “tackled” by being put on the agenda, awareness raising, cleanups, and green deals. The Dutch government is working on this through voluntary compliance mechanisms, meaning there is no binding legislation or enforcement thereof. Preventing the dumping of containers, for example, is not part of their policy. The current goal to achieve a healthy environmental status should, therefore, be tightened up — but how?
Ban polystyrene as a packaging material
Materials that wash up on beaches can, for the most part, be cleaned up, albeit with a great deal of effort. The same is not true for polystyrene, which is commonly used as packaging material; cleanup is nearly impossible. Polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, blows away easily and crumbles into smaller and smaller pieces very rapidly. White polka dots of styrofoam will be found in the Wadden area for many years. The European Union has already forbidden several single-use plastic products, including food trays made from the infamous Styrofoam, but nothing has been done about Styrofoam in general as a packaging material. The Dutch government should make the case for a complete ban on styrofoam for packaging, either within a European context or without.
More stringent rules for container shipping
In January of 2017, a container containing thousands of plastic Kinder Surprise eggs washed onto the German Wadden Island Langeoog. Containers such as these fall overboard regularly. According to the research institute of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 10,000 containers end up in the ocean every year. The lost cargo is disseminated through sea currents and contributes to the plastic soup. It is therefore extremely necessary to impose more stringent regulations on transport containers: for example, a lower limit on the hight to which containers can be stacked would make a big difference. This can be arranged through the International Maritime Organizations (IMO) The problem of lost containers has been relevant for decades and urgently needs to be tackled. Is the Netherlands prepared to feature this issue prominently on the agenda for the upcoming London meeting of the IMO’s environmental commission, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC)? Let this disaster be the catalyst for solving the problem for container loss once and for all.
A quote from Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This major environmental disaster on the Wadden Sea must be translated into motivation for the Dutch government to implement additional measures and impose more stringent requirements on the transportation of containers, especially if they contain toxic substances.”
Photo: Municipality of Ameland

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

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


Problem of ghost nets larger than imagined

Amsterdam, March 29, 2018 – The research team from The Ocean CleanUp has published their report on the amount of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not only is there much more than initially believed, but it is also accumulating rapidly. Almost half of the weight (more than 46%) appears to consist of abandoned fishing nets, which is not difficult to imagine; large floating ghost nets are several times heavier than individual pieces of floating plastic, and they are made for fishing in the sea.

It is well known that ghost nets and other abandoned fishing gear, such as buoys, contribute significantly to the plastic soup and turn millions of sea creatures into victims. What are large fishing companies doing to prevent their nets from being left behind? World Animal Protection has assessed the fifteen largest fishing companies in the world on this topic and has recently published a report on the findings. The results are shocking. None of the mega-fishing companies researched include the problem of ghost nets in their agenda, and they are certainly not taking action to prevent their nets from ending up in the ocean. Just one company acknowledges the existence of the problem at all; none of the companies report about it.

As long as there is no effective international control system, ships will continue to dump their nets with impunity.

Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick


An underestimated threat: the pollution of land by microplastics

Photo: Falk Negrazius, Benin Wikicommons

Amsterdam, 1 March 2018 – Microplastics are not just a threat to the marine environment, they also threaten the land environment. The long-term impact of microplastics in soil can have all kinds of negative effects on terrestrial ecosystems, in other words on land, with even greater impact than at sea. German researchers at the Leibniz-Institute published a warning in Sciencedaily.

The researchers point out that much more plastic finishes up on land than at sea, four to 23 times as much. Worldwide around a third of all the plastic produced finishes up in soils or freshwaters. An important source is sewage sludge, which is used as manure. This sludge contains microplastics which have been removed from water in water purification plants, for instance larger microfibers released during the machine washing of synthetic clothing.

The researchers wondered what impact microplastics have on land and analyzed the little research which has been done on this subject. Among their findings was the following:

  • Microplastics can be found in agricultural soil all over the world;
  • Microplastics can spread pathogenic bacteria and effect the fitness of worms;
  • When additives such as Bisphenol A leach out of plastic, hormone disruptive substances are released.

The long-term effects of these phenomena are still largely unknown. It is therefore essential that programs to measure the effects of microplastics in soil are developed quickly in order to assess the risks.

Balearic Islands, Spanish frontrunners in banning single-use plastic items by 2020

Amsterdam, February 20, 2018 – Spanish tourist islands in the Mediterranean – Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza – are planning on taking radical measures against  plastic pollution. Their goal is to reduce the number of plastic items that end up in the sea as well as boost reusing and recycling among their citizens and tourists. These measures have been included in a proposition from the Government of the Balearic Islands. By 2020, the islands want to have outlawed the sale of single-use plastics, including plastic cups, plates, cutlery, straws, and bags, as well as wet wipes, disposable lighters and razors, cotton swabs made of plastic, non-reusable printer toners, and non-recyclable coffee capsules.

The measure that caused most controversy is the latter: non-recyclable coffee capsules. The proposition states that the capsules’ material will have to be 100% compostable, considering that, at the moment, these capsules are made of plastic or aluminum and cannot be recycled. A possible solution for companies who manufacture the aforementioned capsules would be to introduce a system in which they are collected and recycled by the manufacturers themselves, just as Nespresso is already doing. This solution was presented by the proposition.

Moreover, the government will force restaurants and bars to offer free tap water to all their customers in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic bottles sold.

This ambitious decision was made due to the assessment of pollution on the islands: the space is limited and the economy is based on tourism, which increases the usage of disposable items which end up littering streets, beaches and mountains. If the proposal is implemented, non-compliance of these measures could lead to penalties between €300  and €1,7 million.

A recent report from Greenpeace Spain stated that 96% of litter in the Mediterranean Sea is plastic – about 1,455 tons, to be specific. Of all that plastic, 94% is currently coating the seabed and therefore impossible to retrieve. This makes the Mediterranean Sea one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world.

The Balearic Islands’ challenge follows the decision already made by countries such as France and Costa Rica, who are planning on banning single-use plastics in the next two years. Kenya is an example of a country that has already implemented a ban on plastic bags.

Step by step, measures such as those taken by the Spanish region will force big plastic manufacturers to change their production methods, switch to more sustainable materials, and update their production system to a more environmentally-friendly one. It seems that plastic pollution is finally on the agenda of many politicians, which is a long time coming considering the environmental and economical impact that it entails.

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European textile industry’s microfiber initiative puts off taking action

Amsterdam, 2 February 2018 – Plastic microfibers are released during the machine washing of synthetic clothing. Microfibers in the environment are difficult to tackle and form a huge problem. In its Plastic Strategy the European Commission expresses its support for a new initiative by a European industrial consortium, which aims to prevent plastic microfibers entering water. On 16 January, the very day that the EC presented its Plastic Strategy, the consortium released this declaration.

The aim of the industry’s initiative is to find feasible solutions and develop test methods. To achieve this, the consortium intends to spend the first half of 2018 analyzing the problem. In addition to this it wants to put a draft proposal to the European Commission by the end of 2018 stating which knowledge needs to be developed in order to work on possible solutions. The declaration is incredibly vague.

The five companies (AISE, CIRFS, European Outdoor Group, Euratex, Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry) could, however, save themselves months of effort, since the European Commission already had research carried out into synthetic microfibers long ago. The main conclusion of the Mermaids Life+ project is that 600,000 and 17,700,000 microfibers are released during every five-kilo wash (an average of six million per wash). This and other results were published at the end of 2017 in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution. The Mermaids project also developed an analysis method based on scanning a filter (with a mesh size of 5 µm) using an electron microscope. This makes it possible to count the number of fibers released per wash relatively accurately.

So why has the consortium failed to even mention research carried out by the European Mermaids project, while at the same time saying it wants to analyze the problem and focus on developing harmonized test methods? After all the problem has long been analyzed, not just by Mermaids, but also by other research groups, such as the one led by professor Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth. The results of which are largely consistent. There is currently enough known on which synthetic materials release more or fewer fibers, which temperatures reduce fiber release and whether, for example, it matters which detergent is used.

So what is actually going on? Measures to prevent fiber loss will be radical and that is a huge threat to the whole textile chain. The joint action taken by the five industrial organizations is a tried and tested strategy, which could be described as ‘obstructive cooperation’. It entails recognizing that there is a problem and then taking as much time as possible to analyze and research it. The essential thing is to avoid or influence government regulation by being the first to announce action.

The European Commission should have set conditions for measures aimed at reducing the loss of fibers and it should have done so on the basis of the European Mermaids life+ project.

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Plastic Waste Mountain a Big Problem

Amsterdam, January 9, 2018 — Now that China has closed its doors to the import of plastic waste, plastic is piling up. As was predicted months ago, collectors are now stuck with their plastic because they can no longer export it. While eligible for recycling, much of this plastic waste is now being burned. The incinerators cannot deal with such high demand and the goals of the Netherlands to recycle 54% of consumer and industrial packaging will not be achieved. 

Up until January 1st, China imported much of the West’s plastic waste. The state has begun to regard plastic designated for recycling as undesirable pollution. This measure is part of the Chinese National Sword 2017 Campaign.

It has become apparent that the Netherlands has never taken serious responsibility for its own waste, let alone the recycling thereof. Heavy investments will be needed in order to enable the Netherlands to recycle its largely low-quality plastic waste and to make sure that it is not inferior in quality to new plastic made from petroleum.

There is another way to get rid of plastic waste, and it is striking that this option is not mentioned in the media, for example by the NOS. This other option is simply a drastic reduction in the use of disposable plastic, especially for packaging purposes. Consumption-reduction is now single-handedly the most effective measure in the fight against litter and plastic soup. Where are the reduction policies?