Persevering

The time seems ripe for Plastic Soup Foundation to persevere. We are planning to address the Government, local authorities, watchdog bodies, large plastic manufacturers and processing companies on their responsibility and liability both directly and through legal means. In each case, we will work with DCMR to encourage other environmental services to deal with plastic granule pollution. 

We may be very happy with the first positive outcomes and our contact with the industry, but are also disappointed that our request to thoroughly examine and clean the sludge in Rotterdam harbour has not yet been honoured by Rijkswaterstaat. It is highly likely that the sludge is also heavily polluted with heavier types of nurdle. We are still thinking about the next steps that we need to take. 

We also want the historic pollution of the entire Port of Rotterdam to be assessed. Looking at the Ducor case, it is highly likely that other areas in the port are very badly affected. Decontamination would then be the only option.  

Chemelot

Apart from our research in the Rotterdam region, we also looked at the province of Limburg and the Port of Antwerp. Chemelot, the large conglomerate of chemical industries in South Limburg, is at the top of our list. The plastic manufacturers there handle the materials so carelessly that in some places it looks like it has hailed. 

In April 2020 our lawyer Faton Bajrami contacted the environmental protection agency of South Limburg, the RUD, which immediately took action against the plastic pollution at Chemelot 

That said, even Chemelot’s eyes are starting to open and discussions have started. The management of Chemelot Site Permit, the holder of the environmental permit for the Chemelot industrial zone, finally signed the Operation Clean Sweep covenant in July 2020. In doing so, the industrial zone commits to the goal of producing zero plastic granules, flakes and powder emission into the environment. It also voiced its goal of not only being the ‘most competitive chemical site in West Europe’ by 2025, but also the ‘safest and the most sustainable’. 

A compressed air cleaning unit has also been installed, regular sweeping is done, the verges are cleaned, and on 27 October 2020, a meeting was held on the theme ‘Collaborating throughout the production chain to prevent plastic products from entering the environment’ to which Plastic Soup Foundation was also invited. 

All this was part of the agreement with the RUD. If, however, Chemelot should fail to reach the agreed timeframe or comply with parts of the plan, the environmental agency would definitely consider using administrative legal tools. And should the RUD fail to act, Plastic Soup Foundation has the option to file another enforcement request. 

INEOS

Another point that is high on our agenda is ‘Project One’, the British chemical company INEOS’ plan to build a EUR 3 billion factory in the Port of Antwerp to produce ethylene and polypropylene. The new factory will be one of the largest ethane crackers in the world. The cracker converts ethane gas into ethylene, after which INEOS processes this raw material into a semi-manufactured product in the form of nurdles. 

INEOS is also the manufacturer of the 26 tons of nurdles that were shipped in February 2020 from Rotterdam to Tananger and ended up on the Norwegian and Swedish coasts after a storm at sea. 

To accommodate INEOS’ multi-billion euro project in Antwerp, 56 hectares of woodland needs to be cleared. Many Belgians did not accept this. The Flemish minister who had declared the harbour an industrial area and who had given the green light for the woodland clearance was reprimanded by the Raad voor Vergunningsbetwistingen (licence dispute council) in November 2020 that suspended the environmental permit for the woodland clearance. 

The case was brought to court by Client Earth, an NGO that deploys international lawyers for environmental issues and that sees the earth as its only client. The lawyers and 13 other environmental organisations went to court because they considered that Project One flagrantly ignored national and EU environmental legislation and was hiding the destructive and far reaching effects of the project on both the local environment and on CO2 emissions worldwide. 

In 2019, Plastic Soup Foundation had already warned that the investments could not be justified as the chemical sector would use oil and gas for years, the Paris climate goals would not be attained and society would again be overrun with even more cheap plastics for decades. We are considering joining the legal battle between Client Earth and INEOS and other plastic polluters in the Port of Antwerp. 

Polymer Hub

Plastic Soup Foundation is also concerned about the continuous growth of large storage areas in the distribution of nurdles. Many plastic granules are ‘spilled’ during transport and transhipment.  

The new Rotterdam Polymer Hub on the inner Maasvlakte is such a site. The area is close to the water and given its advantageous location to both the sea and the hinterland, will be used for large goods transport. 

Plastic Soup Foundation, in collaboration with IVN Natuureducatie (IVN nature education) and Stichting De Noordzee (the North Sea Foundation) under the project name Schone Rivieren (clean rivers), and the international Break Free From Plastic movement and the worldwide The Great Nurdle Hunt clean up, is tirelessly continuing the battle against worldwide nurdle pollution. 

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