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Plus Supermarket works around the European Ban on single-use plastics

Amsterdam, May 23, 2019 — Europe forbids its member-states from selling single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks). This is one of the measures that ware mentioned in the new guidelines for single-use plastics. The Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Reduction of the Impact of Certain Plastic Products on the Environment, as the guidelines are officially called, was definitively approved this month now that the European Council has also approved of it. Selling disposable cutlery is therefore prohibited as of 2021. Despite this impending ban, the Dutch supermarket PLUS has already found a way to circumvent the prohibition by marketing plastic cutlery as an environmentally friendly “washable” product. 

Background of the Directive
In order to prevent the exponentially-increasing amount of plastic in the environment, Europe has adopted new rules. These new rules prohibit the use of certain single-use products if there are alternatives. The prohibited products are those which are often found in the environment, such as disposable cutlery; plastic forks, spoons, and knives are often found in places where people picnic, such as on beaches and in parks. The new regulation seeks to eliminate plastic products that are usually thrown away after being used just once or twice — they may no longer be sold as of 2021.
PLUS Supermarket
PLUS Supermarket’s marketers claim that the company is striving to minimize its impact on the environment and touts its corporate social responsibility program. One might, therefore, expect that PLUS brand plastic cutlery — in anticipation of the forthcoming plastic ban — would be removed from shelves. Instead, the brand is suddenly presenting their plastic cutlery as a “sustainable” product that would benefit the environment. It is an embarrassment.

Bol.com introduces plastic packaging and claims environmental benefit

Amsterdam, 29 April 2019  – In a press release on their website, Bol.com announced changes in its packaging policies. The large, Dutch, online retailer’s most important change is the decision to decrease the use of their signature blue and white cardboard boxes. Bol.com claims that avoiding double packaging (products that were already packed and then double-packed in Bol.com blue & white boxes) will save 3.5 million boxes this year alone. About 20% of the CO2 emission of this company is produced by the packing materials and their aim is to be a zero-emission online store in 2025. This leaves one question: what are they doing with plastic?    

Bol.com also introduces a plastic shipping bag, made of recycled materials to replace some of the cardboard boxes in future. This will no doubt lead to increased use of plastic. At the beginning of the year, Bol.com did not sign the Plastic Pact in which companies and organisations committed to decreasing their plastic use with 20% in 2025. Is this commitment the reason why Bol.com did not sign the pact? The online retailer wants to decrease its ecological footprint and equates that to CO2 reduction. However, it ignores the impact of single-use packages on the environment.  

Implementing a reusable system would show real ambition 

Less packaging is better. Less packaging, plastic, cardboard and stuffing materials mean less waste, which is clearly better for the environment. Replacing cardboard with plastic can reduce CO2 emissions but does not take other aspects of plastic use, such as the disposal of plastic, into account. Plastic Soup Foundation does not agree with replacing cardboard by plastic. Instead of introducing plastic shipping bags, Bol.com should keep using the cardboard boxes. However, if the choice for plastic is already made then, the containers should be part of a reusable system, so containers can be returned to the company to be re-used. This would comply with the new SUP directive of the European Commission, which states that single-use plastic (SUP) should be reduced; producers should take responsibility for their plastic packaging, even after use. And an infrastructure should be in place to stimulate reusing plastic packing materials. Bol.com is making changes but as far as plastic is concerned, in the wrong direction. 

Photo: www.businessinsider.nl 

Berkeley (US) shows us how it’s done

Amsterdam, January 31st 2019 – Berkeley, California adopted the Single-Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance this month, and is now the first American city with a comprehensive plan to reduce waste from single-use plastics. In the City of Berkeley alone, approximately forty million on-the-go cups are discarded on an annual basis. Not anymore one year from now, when all plastic containers, utensils and cups should have been banned from the city. They will have been replaced by compostable alternatives. As of the summer of 2020, restaurants will only be allowed to offer reusable tableware and utensils.

But that’s not all. Berkeley also wants to reduce the amount of residual waste. A surcharge of 25 dollar cents per single-use on-the-go cup, even if compostable, will be introduced to that end. Companies are allowed to keep the 25-cent surcharge as a financial compensation for more expensive alternatives. The surcharge is also meant as an incentive for customers to bring their own cups.

Up till now, policy has been aimed at banning certain items. In the United States bans mostly concern drinking straws, plastic bags and polystyrene containers, while total usage of single-use plastics continues to increase. Berkeley is now striving for zero waste and has adopted a comprehensive plan to achieve this goal. The Berkeley City Council unanimously voted in favour of the plan.

Already now this initiative serves as an inspiring example for many other cities.

Here you can read the article about this initiative in the Los Angeles Times.

Photo by Arvind Grover

EU agrees unprecedented cuts to single-use plastics

Brussels,  19 december 2018 – After months of intense negotiations, the EU has agreed much-anticipated laws to slash single-use plastics in the EU. The agreed text is a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution, but does not fully address the urgency of the plastics crisis, according to Rethink Plastic and Break Free From Plastic.

“The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans. What’s less laudable is that the plastics lobby – backed up by some governments – was able to delay and weaken the ambition,” said Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe on behalf of Rethink Plastic“Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step. The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables.”

The final measures adopted [1] include:

  • Bans on several single-use plastic items including plates, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups
  • Ensuring manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-up of several single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts and fishing gear

However, the agreement falls short of what is needed to fully tackle the plastics crisis in key areas including:

  • No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets
  • A delay of four years on ensuring 90% of plastic bottles are collected separately – from 2025 to 2029

“The new laws are a significant first blow to the plastic pollution monster” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European Coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement. “However, their impact depends on the implementation by our national governments who must immediately adopt ambitious targets to cut single-use plastics, and ensure producers pay for their pollution. The public call to stop plastic pollution is loud and strong, it is unacceptable to ignore it.”

Tomorrow, December 20, national Environment Ministers are expected to sign off on the agreed Directive. Member States will have two years to transpose it into national laws, which should come into force at the beginning of 2021 at the latest.

NOTES:

[1] The measures adopted include:

What’s good:

  • A EU-wide ban of single-use plastic cotton buds, straws, plates, cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups

  • Extended Producer Responsibility schemes meaning manufacturers (including big tobacco companies and top polluters from the packaging industry like Coca Cola, Pepsico and Nestle) pay for the costs of waste management, clean up and awareness-raising measures for certain single-use plastics including plastic cigarette filters – the most littered item in Europe (by January 2023 for most items)

  • A possibility for EU countries to adopt market restrictions for food containers and cups for beverages

  • An obligation for EU countries to reduce post-consumption waste from tobacco product filters containing plastic

  • For fishing gear, an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme and a requirement for Member States to monitor collection rates and set national collection targets

  • Ensure all beverage bottles are produced from 30% recycled content by 2030

  • Labelling on the presence of plastics in a product and resulting environmental impacts of littering, and on the appropriate waste disposal options for that product

What’s not so good:

  • No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets either; instead, countries must “significantly reduce” their consumption, leaving it vague and open

  • A delay of 4 years in achieving the 90% collection target of beverage containers, from 2025 to 2029, with an intermediary target of 77% by 2025

  • Allowing for EU countries to choose to achieve consumption reduction and certain EPR measures through voluntary agreements between industry and authorities

  • A 3 year delay to make sure plastic drinks containers have their caps/lids attached to the containers – from 2021 to 2024

These measures apply to all single-use plastics listed in the Directive’s Annexes including bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

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Cotton bread bag is becoming mainstream

Amsterdam, 31 October 2018 – The free plastic bag has been banned for a while now, but this is not the case for bakeries. Bread at the bakery or in the supermarket is generally still wrapped in plastic. A family consumes at least one loaf of bread per day. This means that approximately 365 plastic bags are used annually. The Netherlands counts almost 5 million multi-person households. A simple calculation shows that every year about 1.8 billion plastic bags are used. Just for bread. Just for multi-person households. Just in the Netherlands.

But there is an alternative. For a few years now, different sizes of the unprinted bread bag made of organic cotton, designed by Inge Barmentlo of Bag-again” have already been for sale online for a few euros. The bag can also be used for vegetables and fruits and is easy to close with a drawstring. Since two years, a bag marked with the text “Bread” has been available.

The concept of the bread bag has now been taken over by the Albert Heijn supermarkets, which have been selling a variant for a month. Selling the cotton bread bag in supermarkets is making it a mainstream product.

Inge Barmentlo: “I now get more requests from bakeries who want to start selling the bread bag, and I suspect that has to do with the AH-example. Although some pioneers have already been selling our bread bags for some time, I now have the idea that more companies are taking that step and also that the threshold is getting lower for consumers to take their own bread bag into a store or supermarket. I could never have dreamed this would happen when I started two years ago.”


Also read: India will abolish single-use plastics

European Parliament takes historic decision against plastic pollution

Strasbourg, 25 October 2018 – Yesterday in the European Parliament an overwhelming majority voted in favour of a considerable reduction of single-use plastics. More than 87 percent (571 Members of Parliament) brought out a positive vote. In a ground-breaking decision, manufacturers of plastic packaging, cigarettes and fishing nets will have to contribute to the cost of cleaning up their waste. So far, these costs were passed on to the society. From now on manufacturers will be held responsible for the pollution caused by their products.

The European Parliament went even further than the European Commission’s proposal earlier this year. EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans, among others, often spoke out in favour of the so-called Plastics Strategy and was awarded the Plastic Soup Foundation’s ‘Politieke Pluim’ (Political Compliment) last week.

Firstly, the measures contain a ban starting 2021 on the single-use plastics that are found to be the most common litter in the seas, such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton swabs. Parliament has expanded this list to include products of oxygen-degradable plastic and expanded polystyrene (such as fast-food boxes). In addition, Member States must draw up national plans to encourage multiple use or recycling. Other types of plastics that can be recycled, such as drinking bottles, must be collected and recycled, with a target of 90 percent in 2025. Reaching this target is only feasible if deposit systems are introduced or extended.

Reduction targets have also been established for cigarette butts because these also contain plastic. Waste from tobacco products should be reduced by 50 percent in 2025 and by 80 percent in 2030. Furthermore, Member States must ensure that annually at least 50 percent of lost fishing nets are collected. Fishing nets are responsible for 27 percent of the waste that is found on European beaches.

Jeroen Dagevos, head of programmes at the Plastic Soup Foundation, welcomes the European decision: “I’m pleased that the European Parliament has taken this decision. It is a good first step. Now, firm action is required to stop the growth of plastic production.”

Next week the environment ministers of the EU Member States will speak about the legislative text, after which this will go through European Parliament once more and will then finally be presented to the European government leaders for approval.

Read the European Parliament press release.

McDonald’s says goodbye to plastic straw

Amsterdam, 13 July 2018 – SumOfUs.org campaigned against the plastic straws of McDonald’s and collected more than half a million signatures. At the end of May, the European Commission proposed to ban plastic straws, because alternatives are available. More and more customers worldwide refuse the straws of McDonald’s. The fast-food giant that uses 1.8 million daily straws in the UK alone, could no longer withstand the pressure.

Mid-July, McDonald’s announced that next year all 1361 branches in the UK and Ireland will use paper straw only. The first restaurants make the change as early as September. Later this year, McDonald’s will be testing alternatives for the plastic straw in a limited number of restaurants in the United States, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia. How long it will take until the 36,000 restaurants outside the UK have switched is unclear according to the Guardian. Vice president of McDonalds Francesca DeBiase said: “McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally”.

According to Algemeen Dagblad all restaurants in the Netherlands will have abolished plastic straws next year.

Why did it take so much external pressure before the fast-food chain changed its policy? That question is not hard to answer; the production costs of plastic straws are lower than those of the desired alternatives. However, the disadvantages of reputational damage now surpass the benefits of lower costs. By abolishing plastic straws before a possible legal ban, the company can still claim to have the desire to achieve sustainability goals on its own initiative. That’s what is happening now.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are very pleased that McDonald’s says goodbye to the plastic straw. This straw, which is discarded immediately after use and massively spreads into the environment, is one of the symbols of the plastic soup. The step that McDonald’s is now taking shows that it does indeed pay off to put pressure on these types of companies.”

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Morocco proves: ban on plastic bags is pointless without enforcement

Amsterdam, July 3, 2018 – Today is World Plastic Bag Free Day. On July 3rd, people around the world call for attention to the negative consequences of single-use plastic bags.

More and more countries are taking measures against the plastic bag. That seems like it’s good news. But laws themselves aren’t a guarantee that there’ll be fewer plastic bags being used. Measures are almost entirely useless if they’re not enforced, too. That appears to be the case in Morocco, which adopted a law two years ago banning plastic bags.

The Moroccan NGO Zero Zbel researched the effects of the law. In three large cities, 24 volunteers questioned a total of 235 business owners and consumers at markets. The most important results are:

  • 90% of consumers is aware of the law, and all questioned businessmen are. 60% sees the plastic bags as a serious threat to the environment.
  • Eight percent of people questioned says the use of plastic bags has increased, 41% thinks it’s remained at the same level.
  • The bags are still used at markets, where they’re almost always given away for free. The majority of consumers says they use between 5 and 15 bags per shopping trip.
  • As an explanation for the continued use of the bags, the people questioned explained that it’s because they’re free, while 60% of business owners stated that 80% of their customers expect to be given free plastic bags. Alternative bags are more expensive and less practical.

Zero Zbel recommends the government to deal with the producers of illegal bags. Another recommendation is to have the results of the law be evaluated by an independent organization every year.


Also read: India will abolish single use plastics

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United Nations advises countries to take measures against plastic

 Amsterdam, June 5, 2018 –– Up to now, there have been no international agreements that compel countries to reduce their use of plastic. The most environmentally problematic form of plastic is single-use plastic (SUP). Despite the lack of an internationally binding agreement, countries have taken measures against SUPs themselves; they recognize the seriousness of the plastic pollution problem, and the issue has likely become intolerable for their citizens.

 Today, on World Environment Day, UN Environment has published an extensive review with an oversight of the measures that 50 nations have implemented up to now. Some of these measures are not effective because governments do not follow up on them.

The report, entitled Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap, gives a summary of the ten most effective steps countries can take. The UN recommends the following measures to governments around the world:

  1. Target the most problematic single-use plastics
  2. Consider the best actions to tackle the problem
  3. Assess the potential social, economic, and environmental impacts
  4. Identify and engage key stakeholder groups
  5. Raise public awareness
  6. Promote alternatives
  7. Provide incentives to industry
  8. Use revenues collected from taxes on single-use plastics to maximize the public good
  9. Enforce chosen measures effectively
  10. Monitor and adjust chosen measures if necessary and update the public on progress

European Commission’s Proposal to Reduce Single-Use Plastic

Brussels/Amsterdam, May 28, 2018 — The European Commission is fighting the plastic soup. The proposal for a separate Directive that was presented in Brussels today is a step in the right direction, but one that does not go far enough.

Europe is taking on Single Use Plastics (SUP). Several plastic products, such as disposable cutlery, stirrers, cotton earbuds, and straws, will be banned entirely under the proposed document. For these products, alternatives exist. Other plastic products will be labeled to inform buyers, and still others must be designed better.

Producers will be held accountable for the disposal phase of their SUP products; in 2025, 90% of plastic bottles must be collected by their manufacturers. The European Commission considers this feasible with the implementation of deposit schemes. Producers will also have to pay for cleaning up stray plastic, including cigarette filters. These plans are based on the plastic items that are most frequently found on beaches. Additional specific rules are proposed to prevent fishnets from ending up in the ocean permanently.

According to European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, the proposed Directive is incredibly ambitious. It may even be the world’s most ambitious legislative measure to diffuse the plastic crisis. In his own words, “Europe is leading the way”, as he stated during the press conference. Citizens of Europe have given the commission the mandate for this initiative. Timmermans pointed out that 95 percent of Europeans consider measures against SUP necessary and urgent.

No matter how ambitious the proposal may be, the crucial question is whether it is ambitious enough. The banning of even a few plastic products is, above all, a symbolic measure. Large quantities of (unnecessary) plastic packaging, 59% of all plastics, are hardly or not at all restricted in the proposal. No concrete reduction targets have been formulated, and the emphasis is placed on recycling rather than on reduction. There are even more shortcomings. While the commission says that people’s health is an important starting point, there is nothing presented about reducing harmful chemical additives, including hormone-disrupting substances. A proposal for a European tax on plastic is also missing; any tax measures are left to the Member States to decide upon.

Read the press release about the Directive here and see a summary of the press conference here


Also read: Powerful European plastics industry lobby resists European Union measures