Are Dutch supermarkets going to close the plastics value chain, with a first link in Spain?

Amsterdam, 28 February 2019 – Plastic users, such as supermarkets, committed themselves with the Plastics Pact to closing the plastics value chain and create a circular economy for plastics. Closing the plastics value chain should prevent plastics from entering the environment. The Dutch supermarkets that signed the pact are Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Lidl, Aldi en Ekoplaza. These companies often import fruit and vegetables from Spain, mainly from Spanish region Almería in Andalusia.

Almería, located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast of Spain, is one of the largest vegetable exporters in Europe. In the period of 2017-2018, the acreage of greenhouses increased with nearly 2% to 31,614 hectares in this region. And unlike the Dutch greenhouses, Spanish greenhouses are not made from glass but from plastic. This plasticulture is nicknamed the plastic sea, ‘Mar de Plástico’, and is one of the few man-made constructions visible from outer space.

So, a lot plastic waste is already created at the start of the production chain. And not just when greenhouses are damaged or destroyed, like during heavy hail storms or tornados. Some growers dump their plastic waste illegally in dry riverbeds; this has dramatic consequences for the plastic soup, because all this plastic washes directly into the sea after heavy rainfall. Spanish environmental organizations made a video of rivers of flowing plastic, which went viral. They demand action from the authorities: enforcement should be increased, recycling facilities expanded and the cleanup of riverbeds prioritized.
By signing the Plastics Pact, Dutch supermarket chains promised to create a circular economy for plastics. But does this promise only apply to their stores in the Netherlands? Or does it also apply to imported products, which are sold in Dutch supermarkets? What changes will these supermarkets make? Will they hold exporters accountable to a certain standard and control them to check if these standards are met? Will they combine their efforts to guarantee that the fruit and vegetables sold in their supermarkets do not add to the Spanish Plastic Soup crisis? Or will they evade their responsibility and declare that their producers are all paragons of plastic recycling?

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We are looking forward to the steps and initiatives that Dutch supermarkets will implement to stop the plastic soup crisis, and not only at the end of the plastics value chain, but especially at the producers’ side of the chain, which is the beginning of this chain.”

Also read: Plastic Soup Foundation does not sign plastic pact

Wie bevrijdt de Middellandse Zee van plasticsoep?

Who will free the Mediterranean Sea of the plastic soup?

Amsterdam, 23 June 2018 – The most polluted seas in the world are the enclosed seas. On World Environment Day, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a report about the plastic soup in the Mediterranean Sea. The WWF concludes that the concentration of microplastics is four times higher here than the highest concentration in the Pacific Ocean. The plastic that leaks into the Mediterranean Sea remains there forever, trapped in the enclosed sea.

The report, entitled Out of the plastic trap. Saving the Mediterranean from plastic pollution, notes that most of the plastic pollution comes from Turkey and Spain, followed by Italy, Egypt and France. Half of the waste in countries such as France, Spain and Italy still ends up in landfills. Much of it blows into the sea.

Economic sectors such as the fisheries and tourism are experiencing increasing levels of plastic pollution, even as they themselves are contributing to it. The fisheries are facing about 62 million Euros of damage caused by falling fish catches and damage to boats. Half of all sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs. For tuna, this is one of five tuna.

The WWF argues for stringent international and national measures. Among the international measures should be an international treaty with binding reduction measures and agreements about trade in plastic waste and criteria for recycling. The national measures should include a 100% recycling target plus a ban on plastic bags and single-use plastics. A ban on microplastics in personal care products should also be passed. The Plastic Soup Foundation has been campaigning on this issue since 2012.

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.