Plastic Pollution

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Courtesy of © Ferdi Rizkiyanto (Pepey)

Albatross: We are living in a plastic age and the solutions may seem glaringly obvious, so why aren’t all 7.6bn of us already doing things differently? Shocking statistics don’t guarantee effective change. So what’s the alternative? Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan believes the focus should be on forcing people to have a stronger emotional engagement with the problems plastic causes.[1] Albatross is released in Apr.2018, albatrossthefilm.com

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The Plastic Tide Project

Tag Plastics Now!
A revolutionary project using drone technology to remotely scan ocean plastic waste. Help train our software to learn. Watch on Youtube

Become a Citizen Scientist. Teach our computer program to find plastics automatically by tagging any you see on our drone images of UK beaches. The Plastic Tide. Jan.2018

Chemicals

Bisphenol A

  • Feb.19.2018: Are we poisoning our children with plastic? The chemical BPA is widely added to food and drink packaging, and more than 80% of teenagers have it in their bodies. But how dangerous is it? BPA is added to plastic to create a special form called polycarbonate plastic, used in making robust, impact-resistant materials First created in 1891, it has been used commercially since the 1950s and is now one of the most commonly produced chemicals in the world, with 3.6bn tonnes of BPA generated every year. The problem is that BPA can be ingested or absorbed through skin contact, meaning that humans are regularly exposed through the chemical leaching out of packaging into food and drink – and over the past 20 years various studies have linked BPA to a variety of adverse health effects. The biggest concerns have been the impact on foetuses and young children, who have underdeveloped systems for detoxifying chemicals – the consequences being that the younger you are, the higher the levels of BPA in your body. Once in the human body, BPA mimics the action of the hormone oestrogen and disrupts the endocrine system – the glands that produce hormones regulating, among other things, metabolism, growth, sexual function and sleep. As a result, in the US, the Food and Drug Administration has banned BPA use in baby bottles and infant feeding cups. Most notably it has been linked to male infertility through decreasing sperm quality, but a number of scientists believe that continuous BPA exposure, altering normal hormonal signalling in the body, may be a component in the development of a number of chronic diseases. The European Food Safety Authority saw enough to order a reduction in the tolerable daily intake that we’re allowed to be exposed to in food and drink packaging. In France, the national agency for food, environmental and occupational health has gone even further, completely banning the use of BPA in any packaging that comes into contact with food. And the amount of plastic waste disposal in the environment means that BPA leaches into rivers and soil, and eventually back into our bodies through food or drinking water in a cyclic process. There are things we can do to limit our exposure, such as buying unpackaged fruit and vegetables and avoiding heavily processed and packaged food. The Guardian, David Cox.

The Plastics Industry

Fueling Plastics. The Plastics Industry has known since the 1970s that its products were polluting oceans. They then spent decades denying responsibility and fighting regulation. Centre for International Environmental Law

  • Fossils, Plastics, and Petrochemical Feedstocks outlines the role of fossil fuels in plastics production, detailing how over 99% of plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
  • How Fracked Gas, Cheap Oil, and Unburnable Coal are Driving the Plastics Boom warns of the enormous influx of investment to expand or construct new petrochemical facilities. The availability of cheap shale gas in the USA is fueling a massive wave of new investments in plastics infrastructure in the US and abroad, with $164bn planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the US alone, and spurring further investment in Europe and beyond.
  • Feb.23.2018: Fantastic plastic: recycling waste into beautiful homewares. This plentiful resource is being melted down and repurposed into everything from designer furniture to bedding. Designers are on a mission to change our relationship with the material and help to address the devastation it causes to the environment. The Times, Laura Whateley
  • Feb.16.2018: We Are Drowning in Plastic, and Fracking Companies Are Profiting. One company behind this plastics surge is the UK-based chemical company Ineos. Ineos is at the center of this growing plastics industry— but the damage caused by the company extends beyond the mounds of discarded waste littering beaches and waterways. The company’s 75 manufacturing facilities across 22 countries are responsible for chemical leaks, fires, explosions, and air and climate pollution. (Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners). AlterNet, Wenonah Hauter
  • Dec.26.2017: $180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge. Colossal funding in manufacturing plants by fossil fuel companies will increase plastic production by 40% over the next 10 yrs, risking permanent pollution of the earth (Exxon Mobil Chemical, Shell Chemical, huge investment has been driven by the shale gas boom in the USA. The American Chemistry CouncilWikipedia's W.svg said the plastics boom had brought huge economic benefits to the US creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and allowing the manufacture of a wide range of important products from medical supplies to auto parts, piping to technology. Steve Russell, VP of plastics for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) defended the environmental impact, citing a 2016 study that found using plastic reduces environmental damage - but study only looked at $$s]].) The Guardian, Matthew Taylor
  • Sept.2017: Plastic Industry Awareness of the Ocean Plastics Problem. The Centre for International Environmental Law] (CIEL) reveals the evolution of industry's awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. In the 1970s, the major chemical and petrochemical companies and industry groups were aware of the problem. The plastics industry ignored the issue, claiming that it was merely cosmetic. Now they acknowledges the problem, though fight regulation of plastic products - while verbally promoting reuse and recycling. CIEL, '
  • Jul.2016: Plastics and Sustainability. A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement. ACC, '

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in Sept.2016, over 900 non-governmental organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.

Impact on Wildlife

Impact on Oceans

  • Apr.24.2018: Record levels of plastic discovered in Arctic sea ic. Up to 12,000 pieces of microplastic particles were found per litre of sea ice in core samples taken from five regions on trips to the Arctic Ocean – as many as three times higher than levels in previous studies. Today’s study found record levels of polyethylene in one area thought to come from the massive “garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean. In another it found high levels of paint and nylon particles pointing to increased shipping and fishing. The study also found that so much plastic is now stored in Arctic sea ice, which then moves and melts, that it has become a significant system for transporting plastic particles around the region. The Guardian, Matthew Taylor.
  • Mar.12.2018: Krill found to break down microplastics – but it won't save the oceans. A study by Australian researchers has found that krill can digest certain forms of microplastic into smaller – but no less pervasive – fragments. The digested fragments were on average 78% smaller than the original fragments, with some up to 94% smaller. "It’s not helping plastic pollution, it's just ... making it easier for small animals to eat it," she said. A study by Newcastle University in Dec.2017 found microplastics in the stomachs of deep-sea creatures from 11km deep trenches in the Pacific Ocean. Dawson said microplastics that had been digested by krill were too small to be detected in most oceanic plastic surveys, meaning the level of microplastics in the ocean could be higher than currently assumed. A global analysis conducted by US academics in Jul.2017 found that plastic waste was so high as to threaten a "near-permanent contamination of the natural environment". The Guardian, Calla Wahlquist
  • Feb.01.2018: Surfers Against Sewage urge MPs to make parliament plastic-free. Campaigners ask Westminster to ‘drive war on plastic waste’ and Prince Charles calls for action. The Guardian, Sandra Laville
  • 2018.01.10: British beaches look like a 'plastic war zone' after Storm Eleanor. The London Economic, Joe Mellor

Impact on Freshwater

  • Mar.15.2018: Plastic microfibres found in most bottled waters. The World Health Organisation is to investigate the impact of plastic in drinking water after a series of studies which found tiny particles in bottled water, beer and fish. There is no evidence that microplastics damage human health but the WHO says that more research is needed. An American analysis found particles of plastic in 93% of water bottles. Concentrations were as high as 10,000 pieces per litre, roughly twice as much as researchers found in tap water in an earlier study. The Times, Duncan Geddes.
  • Nov.24.2017: Are There Microplastics in Your Drinking Water? Scientists found microplastics in 94% of US water samples. What does this mean for our health and what can we do about it? Most of us drink microplastics everyday, in our coffee and tea, our soup, and sips from the water fountain. Worldwide 83% of water samples — taken from across Europe and the United States, as well as from sites in Indonesia, Ecuador, Lebanon, Uganda, and India — contained microplastics. In the US, an astonishing 94% of samples tested had microplastics. EarthEasy, Susannah Shmurak.

Recycling

Some good pics and info here: http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk/facts.html
For issues that recycling presents, see "Save The Oceans: Stop recycling plastic" from the GWPF crew. They make some good points.

Government Policy

  • Jan.02.2019: Plastic bottle deposit scheme in UK proving hit with shoppers. ‘Reverse vending machines’ receive 311,500 bottles to date, says supermarket Iceland. Shoppers have received the equivalent of more than £30,000 in total for recycling plastic bottles in the first supermarket trial using “reverse vending machines”, introduced last year at 5 sites (- while Gove sits on his hands and kicks the issue into the long "consultation" grass.) Tesco is also carrying out a trial, as are Morrisons and the Co-op, but none have yet published their results. The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers.
  • Dec.15.2018: Industry fights to water down bottle recycling charges. Michael Gove pledged in March that the govt would “introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single-use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal), subject to consultation later this year”. He said the 22p deposit on drinks containers in Germany had resulted in 97% being recycled. Only 57% of the 13 bn plastic bottles of all types used annually in the UK are recycled, although the Plastics Industry claims that the rate for drinks bottles is 74%. The British Retail Consortium is lobbying for glass to be excluded; and for the scheme to primarily target plastic bottles smaller than 1 litre. Retailers are worried about the cost and practicality of installing reverse vending machines, each costing about £32,000. The aluminium can industry argues that a deposit on its products would remove them from household recycling bins, in which they are the most valuable item, helping councils to cover the cost of collections. It also says that a deposit scheme would result in the metal being mostly aerosols which can explode when crushed, creating a risk in bin lorries and at recycling centres. Surfers Against Sewage urged Gove to introduce a comprehensive scheme. Campaign to Protect Rural England said Gove should not be influenced by the BRC, which had also lobbied against the 5p plastic bag charge. The BRC said: “Efforts to expand [the deposit scheme] too widely risk undermining existing household collection schemes, taking away a key source of revenues for local councils, as well as making life more difficult for households, who can currently recycle these items from the comfort of their home.” The Times, Ben Webster.
  • Oct.30.2018: UK to introduce plastic packaging tax by 2022. Announcement that the govt is launching a consultation on the introduction of a tax on all plastic packaging with a recycled content of less than 30%. Philip Hammond said the govt aimed to enforce the tax as of Apr.2022 to give businesses “time to adjust their behaviour and manage any costs they face”. The new tax will work “hand in hand” with a reformed Packaging Producer Responsibility System (PPRS), which will aim to make businesses more responsible for the clean-up and recycling costs of their packaging. Plans for the new PPRS system, with the objective to encourage designing and using plastic packaging that is easier to recycle, will be announced later this year. The govt is set to launch consultations on both reforms “in the coming months”. Some 2.26m tons of plastic packaging are used in the UK each year, with the vast majority made from virgin plastic, due to the cost-efficiency of virgin materials. Plastic News Europe.
  • Jan.24.2018: UK opposes new EU recycling targets despite May’s call for plastic crackdown. The UK is opposing new EU recycling targets during negotiations in Brussels, despite pledging this month to develop “ambitious” recycling goals. This month, Theresa May revealed the govt’s 25-year environmental strategy, which included a promise to meet all current waste and recycling targets and to develop ambitious new ones, as well as action to reduce single-use plastics and increase plastic recycling. Michael Gove has also promised to crack down on plastic waste, after saying he was “haunted” by footage of plastic pollution in the oceans in the BBC’s Blue Planet II. But leaked notes from an EU delegation seen by Unearthed reveal that UK officials told their counterparts the country will be unable to support an EU-wide target of recycling 65% of all municipal waste by 2035. Diplomats from 3 other EU nations, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed that UK officials had voiced opposition to the binding recycling target. Under the current laws, EU nations must achieve a legally binding recycling rate of 50% by 2020. Despite significant improvements over the past decade, the UK's recycling rate has recently stalled at around 44%. An internal Defra analysis from Jul.2017 estimates that increasing the UK’s recycling rate to 65% would save the waste sector £billions by 2030 and could save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions by 2100, as well as bringing about £billions in social savings. But the analysis notes the UK’s recycling system would have to be totally overhauled to reach this level. Unearthed has previously revealed how supermarkets and soft drinks brands lobbied Defra to oppose aspects of the circular economy package including strict new “polluter pays” rules, and deposit return schemes. A Defra spokesman said "Word Salad". Unearthed@Greenpeace, Alice Ross.

Businesses - Kickbacks

  • Mar.09.2018: Businesses 'overstating recycling' following China export ban. Concerns are mounting that an increasing proportion of waste set aside for recycling is being thrown into the sea because it can no longer be shipped abroad. China, formerly the world's biggest importer of recycling waste, closed its doors in Jan., resulting in rubbish building up at UK shipping ports. Following the ban, up to 100% of businesses and councils' "recycling waste" may end up not being recycled. UK firms handling packaging must take part in a "Packaging Recovery Note" scheme which ensures that a certain proportion of waste is recycled under the scheme. They meet these obligations by buying recovery notes from recycling companies in the UK, or from companies that export waste for recycling abroad. But despite the alleged reduction in recycling, companies are still receiving kickbacks and credit notes on the basis that most of the waste they hand over is recycled. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee are warning that the system is open to "fraud and non-compliance". An industry source said: "For ten years or so recycling rates have been going up, but it was all under the guise of how much was being handed over, not what was actually being recycled. Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Packaging waste is contributing to the ever-growing levels of plastic pollution in the UK and abroad. Packaging Recovery Notes are intended to make companies do their bit for recycling, but there is significant concern that they are distorting the market in favour of exports rather than reprocessing in the UK. A govt spokesman said: "Word Salad". The Telegraph, Katie Morley.

Bottle Deposit Scheme

  • Deposit Return Schemes – what exactly are they? Greenpeace, Feb.22.2017
  • Mar.26.2018: Bottle deposit plan would fix ‘dirty Britain’. Michael Gove, the environment secretary, is reported to be considering the introduction of “reverse vending machines” for plastic bottles and cans. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has backed the deposit scheme in a letter to The Times today. The group, which has more than 50,000 members and supporters, said the previous rejection of a deposit system had “entrenched a throwaway culture”. It says a deposit scheme would double recycling rates. Mr Gove has commissioned research into introducing a levy on bottles and cans and is understood to be considering the use of machines where shoppers could recoup a deposit charge, which industry experts have said would need to be at least 15p. An estimated 35 million plastic bottles are sold in the UK every day but fewer than 60 per cent are recycled. The Times, David Brown.
  • Mar.24.2018: Plastic bottle deposit scheme on way. Michael Gove is expected to announce a deposit scheme for plastic bottles within days. He will propose a "reverse vending machine" system, whereby users can exchange empty bottles for a voucher or cash, the Daily Mail reports. Similar schemes in Germany and Denmark have resulted in more than 90 per cent of bottles being exchanged. It could also reduce the litter from bottles and cans by at least 70 per cent, a leaked report said. Industry experts say the machines would have to return at least 15p to incentivise customers. Mr Gove vowed to tackle plastic after watching the BBC’s Blue Planet II. The Times, Elizabeth Burden.
  • Feb.26.2018: Government 'dragging its feet' over plastic bottle scheme, say MPs. The Environment Audit Committee (EAC) called for a deposit return scheme (DRS) in a report in Dec.2017. Environment secretary Michael Gove called a DRS a "great idea" in Sept.2017. But the govt's reply to the EAC report suggests a DRS decision will be delayed until after a consultation on taxes to deter single-use plastics. That consultation has not yet been launched despite being announced three months ago. "The govt is dragging its feet on DRS," said Mary Creagh MP, chair of the EAC. “Every day the govt delays, another 700,000 plastic bottles end up in our streets. The EAC report found that 5.5bn plastic bottles – 43% of the total – are not recycled every year in the UK and 700,000 are littered every day. In Germany and Denmark, which have DRS schemes, more than 90% of bottles are returned. Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea, which is harming marine life around the world. The government said it was committed to work towards eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 and was "exploring changes to the packaging producer responsibility scheme". Elena Polisano, at Greenpeace UK, said: "This sounds like the govt trying to manage expectations before doing significantly less than is necessary. We hope this isn’t the case." The Guardian, Damian Carrington.
  • Feb.23.2018: Plastic packaging firms fight plan for bottle deposits. The packaging industry is mounting a last-ditch campaign to head off proposals for deposits on plastic bottles and charges on coffee cups. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is considering imposing a refundable deposit of 10p to 20p on bottles and a 5p to 10p charge on coffee cups to reduce litter, increase recycling and prevent plastic pollution in the oceans. The Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), which represents the packaging and catering sectors, opposes the plan as being too expensive for its members. It is proposing an extension of the existing Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system, under which big retailers and packaging companies contribute to the cost of recycling. The FPA wants small retailers and packaging suppliers, now exempt, to pay about £200 to £300 a year each to raise up to £30 million. It says this could be spent by the government and councils on educating households about recycling and anti-litter campaigns. Conservation groups say the proposal is a ruse to dissuade Mr Gove from introducing deposits, which have boosted recycling rates abroad. Only 57% of the 13 billion plastic bottles used annually in the UK are recycled, although the plastics industry claims that the rate for drinks bottles is 74%. Samantha Harding, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "The industry is trying to fool Mr Gove. The industry knows deposits are the thin end of the wedge in terms of making them responsible for the full cost of collecting and recycling the packaging they produce. At present 90% of these costs fall to the taxpayer". Martin Kersh, executive director of the FPA, said his members opposed a deposit scheme because it was a “very heavy-handed instrument” to collect the minority of bottles and cans that were not already recycled. He said that reverse vending machines, used in Norway to collect bottles and return deposits, cost £32,000 each and many thousands would be required. The total cost of introducing a deposit scheme could reach £2 billion, he added. Mr Gove was asked yesterday whether he might ban plastic straws. He said there had to be a balanced approach. The Times, Ben Webster.
  • Feb.22.2018: Don't Bottle It. Michael Gove has a rare opportunity to clean up Britain. The Environmental Audit Committee estimates that taxpayers pay 90% of the cost of recycling or otherwise disposing of food packaging. The Times.
  • Nov.06.2017: Supermarkets and drink giants lobbying against recycling rules. Supermarket, drinks and packaging trade associations lobbied the govt to oppose new EU "polluter pays" proposals designed to boost recycling. The trade associations vigorously opposed European Commission proposals on packaging, part of the Circular Economy Package, which aims to boost recycling rates and reduce waste. They urged Environment minister Therese Coffey to oppose the EU rules despite Brexit. The trade bodies also wrote they were "unanimous" in their opposition to deposit return schemes. The UK runs a complex, market-based scheme in which companies pay a fraction of the costs they face in France or Germany, with taxpayers footing most of the bill for collecting and recycling packaging. Michael Gove announced in October he will consider introducing a Britain-wide deposit-return scheme, a month after Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland would go ahead with one. The Welsh govt has said it may introduce a scheme "as early as next year". Unearthed @ Greenpeace, Alice Ross.
  • Sept.05.2017: Scotland plans deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. Under the programme, based on schemes in Scandinavia, customers would pay a surcharge that would be reimbursed when they return to the shop. The Scottish government has been consulting Zero Waste Scotland on the design of the deposit return scheme, which the organisation estimates could save local authorities between £3m and £6m on litter clearance alone. An opinion poll conducted by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland revealed that 78% of the Scottish publish are in favour of the scheme, but some major drinks companies disagree. AG Barr, the maker of Irn Bru, warned that "the cost to the consumer would be in the region of £150m extra per year" in its submission. It added: "The scope for fraud in a Scottish DRS is huge. On a small scale we could see people scavenging in bins for containers, as is the US experience. On a medium scale there is the potential for local authority amenity centre looting. And on a larger scale there is the very real possibility of cross-border trafficking of deposit-bearing containers. It costs around £400 to move a lorry load of cans from England to Scotland. A single lorry could carry 160,000 crushed cans or £32,000 worth of deposits". AG Barr put an end to its own 30p deposit return scheme for glass bottles in Aug.2015, which had been in operation for more than 100 years. The Guardian, Patrick Greenfield.

Other

  • Oct.19.2018: UK plastics recycling industry under investigation for fraud and corruption. Watchdog examining claims plastic waste is not being recycled but left to leak into rivers and oceans. The plastics recycling industry is facing an investigation into suspected widespread abuse and fraud within the export system amid warnings the world is about to close the door on UK packaging waste. The Environment Agency has set up a team of investigators in an attempt to deal with complaints that organised criminals and firms are abusing the system. The exporters make millions by charging retailers and manufacturers a fluctuating tonnage rate for plastic waste recovery notes – currently £60 a tonne. Retailers buy these plastic export recovery notes – Perns – to satisfy the government they are contributing something to recycling plastic packaging waste. At least 100 containers of plastic waste a day are shipped out from ports including Felixstowe and Southampton to Europe and the Far East. In January, China stopped accepting British plastic waste and exports shifted to Malaysia, Vietnam and Poland. But Malaysia and Vietnam have imposed temporary bans on imports and Poland is considering restrictions, a sign that countries are growing more wary amid evidence of high contamination rates. UK exports to Turkey and the Netherlands soaring as a result. The Guardian, Sandra Laville.
  • Mar.31.2018: Raise a glass to the ‘dirty’ plastic bottle. People are going to have to get used to drinking water from dirty-looking bottles to increase plastics recycling, according to Co-op Food. The retailer has become the first to commit to selling all its bottled water in containers made of 50% recycled plastic. Recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is cloudier than other plastics partly because some coloured material and PVC are mixed in during the recycling process. However, the bottles are just as hygienic as those made from virgin PET. Recycled PET is slightly more expensive to produce than new plastic because of the extra processing required to make it strong enough to be made into bottles. The Times, Ben Webster.
  • Jan.24.2018: UK opposes new EU recycling targets despite May’s call for plastic crackdown. This month, Theresa May revealed the govt's 25 year environmental strategy, which included a promise to meet all current waste and recycling targets and to develop ambitious new ones, as well as action to reduce single-use plastics and increase plastic recycling. Michael Gove has also promised to crack down on plastic waste. But leaked notes from an EU delegation reveal that UK officials told their counterparts the country will be unable to support an EU-wide target of recycling 65% of all municipal waste by 2035. An internal DEFRA analysis from Jul.2017 estimates that increasing the UK’s recycling rate to 65% would save the waste sector billions of pounds by 2030 and could save thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions by 2100, as well as bringing about billions in social savings. A Defra spokesman said: “The government will make a decision on its vote following close scrutiny of the proposals, which are still provisional. We are working with industry to improve the nation’s recycling rates further." Labour shadow environment spokeswoman Sue Hayman told Unearthed: “This Conservative government must be judged on what they do, not on what they say. we have seen this prime minister support fracking beneath national parks, continued subsidies for fossil fuel extraction and illegal levels of air pollution reaching crisis point. Unearthed @ Greenpeace, Alice Ross.
  • Sept.2012: Global Recycling markets: Plastic Waste. A story for one player - China. Plastics global production, mainly from fossil raw materials, has skyrocketed: from 1.5 million tonnes (Mt) in 1950 to 288 Mt in 2012. ISWA Task Force on Globalisation and Waste Management, Interim Report (2012), Costas Velis.

Associated Groups

Export

  • Aug.13.2018: Poland is returning illegal UK waste. Poland is sending back 1,000 tonnes of illegal waste that was shipped in from the UK. The 45 containers, destined for Polish waste sorting facilities, were marked as plastic recycling but when officials intercepted the exports at a port in Gdynia, they found boxes, tins, detergent packaging and engine oil. The UK Environment Agency (EA) has launched a criminal investigation into three firms, which cannot be named for legal reasons. EA chief Sir James Bevan warned two years ago that waste crime was becoming “the new narcotics”, costing Britain £1bn a year. The illegal exports come as the recycling industry faces a global crisis, after China introduced a ban on plastic waste imports at the start of the year ref. UK plastic waste exports to other countries have subsequently shot up. Exports to Poland increased by 31% in the first four months of 2018. The Environmental Services Association (ESA), a trade body for the UK waste and recycling industry, warned firms and councils to be “vigilant” on waste exports. The industry waits to see if the crisis will be escalated further by an amendment that Norway has submitted to the Basel convention, an international agreement on the shipment of waste materials ref. The proposal, if approved at a meeting in September, would reclassify plastic waste as “wastes requiring special consideration”, which would prompt further restrictions on the trade. It could mean that the US is no longer able to export to many Asian countries, as it has not ratified the convention. It was hard to estimate the impact of the amendment on the UK industry, if approved. Unearthed@Greenpeace, Emma Howard.
  • Jun.14.2018: Plastics crisis set to intensify as more countries look to restrict foreign waste. More countries are restricting imports of foreign plastic waste, as new data shows a dramatic rise in exports of UK waste to a raft of countries following China’s decision to ban “foreign trash” in January. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in Dec.2017 that Britain had to “stop offshoring our dirt” and deal with its plastic waste at home. But he also said that in the short term, the country would continue sending its rubbish abroad. Labour MP and member of the Environmental Audit Committee, Kerry McCarthy, said "I thought the China ban would bring the government to its senses in demonstrating we could no long rely on exporting our plastic waste. But instead the minister… challenged the view of this as a crisis, and left it to the market to find alternative export markets." In the first four months of 2018, the UK exported 31% more waste to Poland, a rise of almost 3,000 tonnes to 11,899 tonnes. Two of Vietnam's biggest ports – Tan Cang-Cai Mep International and Tan Cang-Cat Lai – have reportedly become overwhelmed with plastic and paper scrap since the China ban came into force in January. UK plastic waste exports to Vietnam increased by 51% in January to April 2018 – from 9,680 to 14,570 tonnes. UK exports to Malaysia rose sharply in the first four months of 2018, compared to the same period last year, from 15,612 tonnes to 51,549 tonnes. Meanwhile, exports to Thailand increased dramatically, from just 123 tonnes in January to April 2017 to 6, 810 tonnes this year. Before China decided to shut its doors to foreign plastic waste at the start of this year, the UK sent a huge amount of scrap to the country. Unearthed reported late last year that nearly two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports went to China and Hong Kong from January 2012 to September 2017. Overall, British companies sent just under 88,000 tonnes of waste to China in the first four months of 2017. But that figure has dropped to less than 2,500 tonnes this year, with China now only accepting high-quality plastic scrap. Today British companies have sought out other countries. As well as Poland, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia: exports to Turkey also rose, up 166% from 10,598 tonnes to 28,219 tonnes. Exports to Taiwan increased by more than 1,200%. Other countries experiencing significant increases include Pakistan (+78%), India (+37%) and Indonesia (+19%). The UK is not alone in the crisis. New Zealand is reporting similar trends, while the China ban has reportedly put a major strain on US recyclers. Unearthed@Greenpeace, Joe Sanler Clarke, Emma Howard.

Reuse

  • Feb.09.2018: Could plant-based plastics help tackle waste pollution? One company is Biome Bioplastics, which has developed a fully compostable and recyclable cup using natural materials such as potato starch, corn starch, and cellulose, the main constituent of plant cell walls. Most traditional plastics are made from oil. The company has created a plant-based plastic - called a bioplastic - that is fully biodegradable and also disposable either in a paper recycling or food waste bin. Other companies and research institutes, such as Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, are working on similar biopolymer solutions that are more environmentally friendly but equally functional as conventional plastic. Toby McCartney's firm MacRebur has developed a road surface material made from an asphalt mix and pellets of recycled plastic. The plastic mix replaces much of the oil-based bitumen traditionally used in road building. BBC News, Suzanne Bearne.

Bioplastics

Bioplastics are still plastics. The term is deliberately ambiguous.

  • Bio-based plastics: made partly or fully from organic matter from plants and animals, often in combination with fossil fuels. Bio-based plastics rely on limited land resources and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. Less than 40% of bio-based plastics are designed to be biodegradable.
  • Biodegradable plastics: there are different types of biodegradable plastics.
    • Industrially Compostable? Only if your area has industrial composting infrastructure and you know the right bin. If not, the plastic will end up in landfill, incinerators, or the environment.
    • Home Compostable? It can take up to 1 year per item, and only if you have access to a home or community composter which is well managed.
    • Soil Biodegradable? Current uses such as covering of crops still contribute to plastic pollution.
    • Marine Biodegradable? No adequate scheme to prove it. Still impacts sealife. Why would we design products to end up in the ocean?

Plastic-Consuming Organisms

  • Apr.20.2017: Plastic-eating bugs? It’s a great story – but there’s a sting in the tail. Breeding wax moth caterpillars to devour our waste sounds good. At the rate of consumption – one worm gets through about two milligrams of plastic a day – you’d need billions of caterpillars eating constantly all year round to deal with Uk waste. Wax moths, which are found throughout the world, are so-called because they eat wax. Specifically, they love to eat the wax from which bees make their honeycombs – and so they can devastate bee colonies. A far easier and less hazardous solution to the plastic problem could be found in bacteria. And indeed last year a team of Japanese scientists identified a bacterium existing in the wild that can feed on another common plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, which is used to make bottles for soft drinks and water. It’s possible that bacteria might, in fact, be responsible for the plastic-digesting ability of Galleria mellonella larvae. Those bacteria could provide the ideal solution. They could be brewed up in fermentation vats that would dissolve plastics without anyone having to contemplate breeding vast wax moth colonies. Alternatively, it might be possible to extract the particular enzymes the caterpillars use and put them to work on their own – a kind of concentrate of gastric juices. These are the real reasons why the new discovery is promising. The Guardian, Philip Ball. See also The Guardian
  • Apr.20.2017: Plastic-eating worms could help wage war on waste. Wax moth larvae are usually bred as fish bait, but a chance discovery has revealed their taste for plastic. The larvae of wax moths are sold as delicious snacks for chub, carp and catfish, but in the wild the worms live on beeswax, making them the scourge of beekeepers across Europe. a chance discovery has found that waxworms have a taste for more than wax. The grubs appear to breakdown polyethylene with the same enzymes they use for eating beeswax. The Guardian, Ian Sample.

Articles

  • A Kid's Quiz is here. Pinch it and jazz it up for download. Published by C B Environmental Group, a provider of recycling and waste management services in Ceredigion.

2018

  • Dec.01.2018: Plastic waste trapped by Ocean Cleanup spills back into Pacific. A £20 million project intended to rid the ocean of plastic waste using a 2,000ft-long barrier has run into problems. The operation was launched 5 weeks ago, between Hawaii and California. However, the recovered plastic has been spilling back into the ocean before it can be transferred to a ship and taken away for recycling. Mr Slat suspects that the inability of the system to retain the plastic waste it rounds up is related to the unexpectedly slow speed at which it is propelled by wind and waves. To counter this, engineers will widen the mouth of the barrier by about 200ft, hopefully by early next week. The Times, Bernard Lagan.
  • Nov.15.2018: The plastic backlash: what's behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference? Decades after it became part of the fabric of our lives, a worldwide revolt against plastic is under way. Learning about the scale of the problem moved us to act, but the more we push against it, the more it begins to seem just as boundless and intractable as all the other environmental problems we have failed to solve. And it brings us up against the same obstacles: unregulatable business, the globalised world, and our own unsustainable way of life. If governments are held to their commitments, and the movement maintains its momentum, it will have an effect. If plastic is a microcosm of all of our other environmental problems, then following that logic, so are the solutions. In just a few short years, scientific evidence of the environmental damage done by plastic has spurred people to organise, pressured governments to regulate, and even been noticed by fossil fuel corporations. This means facing up to how interconnected the problems are: to recognise that plastic isn’t just an isolated problem that we can banish from our lives, but simply the most visible product of our past half-century of rampant consumption. The Guardian, Stephen Buranyi.
  • Mar.28.2018: The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won’t fix it . A deposit scheme for bottles won’t make a scrap of difference. This stuff is in our food, our clothes – and in us. Environment secretary Michael Gove today pledged to stem the tide of plastic debris by announcing a consultation (another one??) on a plastic-bottle return scheme for England, which aims to get people to recycle more. Gove’s initiative is welcome, but minimal, and will have zero impact on the vast and growing scale of the plastic problem. The scheme is aimed at people fed up with litter; it is no more use than a heavy smoker forgoing a single cigarette. We still have little understanding of how human health is impacted by the many synthetic chemicals and additives that are used to give plastic its qualities. In one study, 95% of all adults tested in the US had known carcinogenic chemical bisphenol A in their urine. In another, 83% of samples of tap water tested in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres. A study published last week revealed plastics contamination in more than 90% of bottled-water samples, which were from 11 different brands. And earlier this year the River Tame in Manchester was found to have 517,000 particles of plastic per cubic metre of sediment – that’s nearly double the highest concentration ever measured across the world. It is not enough to single out plastic bottles, coffee cups, or the microbeads found in cosmetics. We urgently need the government to form a comprehensive plastic action plan. Banning all plastic bags and single-use packaging would be a good start, but we need to go way beyond that. Plastic production has to be reduced, just as alternatives should be encouraged. Regulators must think about phasing out whole groups of chemicals of concern, rather than slowly restricting individual chemicals one at a time, and consumers must be helped to understand what they are being exposed to, and to navigate the complexity of what can be recycled, composted or burned. The Guardian, John Vidal. See also A million bottles a minute: world's plastic binge 'as dangerous as climate change'.
  • Mar.14.2018: War on plastic may do more harm than good, warns think tank. TheGreen Alliance said plastics played a valuable role and couldn't be simply abolished. It wants to transform the notion of a "War on Plastics" into a "War on Plastic Litter". The group - like many environmentalists - gave a grudging welcome to Chancellor Philip Hammond's call for evidence on taxes on single use plastics. But it warned that rejecting all plastic food packaging could prove counter-productive - reducing food waste is vital. Well-packed food - perhaps in plastic - helps protect food from damage, so it can actually save on greenhouse gases. The public backlash against plastics led Lego to announce that in future it will make its toys from plastics derived not from oil, but from sugar cane. Green Alliance suggests: Ban products that are unnecessarily made from plastic and likely to be littered, like cotton buds and straws (Scotland has already committed to this; Stop using so many different types of plastic - and ensure that all types used are easily recyclable; Develop recycling markets for the materials that remain. Increasing recycling won't be economically viable while the price of virgin material oil and gas remains so low, which is why the EU is examining a potential plastics tax and the chancellor has launched his call for evidence on charges for single-use plastics. BBC News, Roger Harrabin. See also more articles at the bottom.
  • Mar.13.2018: Plastics tax eyed in litter crackdown. Chancellor Philip Hammond has called for views on how taxes on some plastics could benefit the environment. Takeaway boxes, disposable cups, plastic wrap and cigarette filters are some of the plastics that the government is consulting on. Industry body the British Retail Consortium wants to see a "comprehensive strategy" from government as to how it "intends to shift to a circular economy where all resources are valued and reused when possible." The industry body added: "All plastic packaging items are already 'taxed' when used under producer responsibility measures. Rather than introduce a second system, the current system could be reformed," it said. BBC News.
  • Feb.28.2018: World's first plastic-free aisle opens in Netherlands supermarket. Ekoplaza in Amsterdam will open its doors at 11am when shoppers will be able to choose from more than 700 plastic-free products, all available in one aisle. The store says it will roll out similar aisles in all of its 74 branches by the end of the year. Campaign group A Plastic Planet has been calling for all supermarkets to offer a plastic-free aisle for the last year. "There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic". The grocery retail sector accounts for more than 40% of all plastic packaging. A recent poll revealed that 91% of Britons back the introduction of plastic-free aisles. Last monthIt is no more use than a heavy smoker forgoing a single cigarette, Theresa May highlighted the challenge of plastic pollution – but she failed to back up her words with any concrete measures. The Guardian, Matthew Taylor.
  • Feb.02.2018: European strategy for plastics. Plastics are an important material in our economy, and modern daily life is unthinkable without them. At the same time however, they can have serious downsides on the environment and health. Action on plastics was identified as a priority in the 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan, to help European businesses and consumers to use resources in a more sustainable way. The first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy adopted on Jan.16.2018 will transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. Better design of plastic products, higher plastic waste recycling rates, more and better quality recyclates will help boosting the market for recycled plastics. It will deliver greater added value ºfor a more competitive, resilient plastics industry. The Strategy is part of Europe's transition towards a circular economy... (see infographic link at the bottom of the page. perhaps pinch it and jazz it up a bit.) European Commission, Waste Streams
  • 2018.01.16: EU declares war on plastic waste. Brussels targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up plan that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030. Brussels launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe, potentially tax damaging behaviour, modernise plastics production and collection by investing €350m (£310m) in research. As part of its strategy, an impact assessment will be carried out on a variety of ways to tax the use of single use plastics. The Guardian, Daniel Boffey
  • 2018.01.09: Outrage as Sainsbury's sells organic coconuts wrapped in plastic so they can sit on a cardboard stand. Linkback: Sainsbury's The London Economic, Joe Mellor
  • Jan.02.2018: Reality Check: How much plastic do we send to China? China has changed its rules on importing waste to be recycled, which means the UK won't be able to send some grades of waste plastic there any more. How big a problem is that? The trade organisation Plastics Europe estimated in 2014 that 3.7 million tonnes of plastic was being used per year in the UK. There are no official figures for the amount of plastic waste generated, but the anti-waste charity Wrap used the Plastics Europe figure to claim that there would have been 3.7 million tonnes of waste. The Environment Agency collects the data from that process. It says 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste was generated in 2014. How much plastic waste is getting sent overseas? In 2014, 2015 and 2016 the UK exported 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year. In 2014 and 2015, 500,000 tonnes of that went to China and Hong Kong, while in 2016 it was 400,000 tonnes. So the amount of plastic waste being exported to China is not far off the total amount being recycled from household waste collection - it's a very significant amount. BBC News, Reality Check Team
  • 2018.01.02: Plastic waste already building up in UK following China's ban. The Telegraph, Telegraph Reporters

2015

  • In Apr.2015, the European Parliament backed new legislation – agreed with national govts - to curb the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags in the EU. The legislation obliges member states to either adopt measures ensuring that the annual consumption level does not exceed, on average, 90 lightweight plastic carrier bags per person by the end of 2019, and not more than 40 bags per person by 2025; or alternatively, to ensure that they are not given for free at stores and sales points by the end of 2018. Tory MEPs did not vote in favour of this legislation. Seb Dance MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on Environment, said: "In claiming credit for these measures and by posing as a champion of the environment, Michael Gove is trying to claim credit for an EU policy his own colleagues tried to water down and then voted against. It is just another example of the EU Single Market delivering environmental benefits for the UK, which the govt's Hard Brexit policy threatens to undermine."

2014

  • In Apr.2014, MEPs voted for proposals to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags, including a binding target to cut their use by 80% as well as mandatory charges. Other measures in the proposals include a mandatory charge for plastic carrier bags in the food sector, and increasing the use of biodegradable plastic bags over conventional bags. Conservative MEPs opposed the proposals, tabling amendments to weaken the legislation.[2]

2013

  • Sept.16.2013: A lot of US plastic isn't actually being recycling since China put up its Green Fence. Little do consumers know that even if their trash collector says it recycles that waste, they absolutely are going to landfill. Quartz, Gwynn Guilford
  • Jun.14.2013: China leads the waste recycling league. EU legislation is fuelling a multibillion-dollar market. As landfill charges increase, it is often cheaper to send rubbish abroad. With the world's population and consumption increasing, the waste heap is growing. More than 4 bn tonnes of waste (municipal, industrial and hazardous) is generated annually worldwide. Where does it all go? The top destination for waste is China, which in 2010 imported around 7.4m tonnes of discarded plastic, 28m tonnes of waste paper and 5.8m tonnes of steel scrap. Between 2000 and 2008, European exports of plastic waste increased by 250% – and about 87% of these exports ended up in China (including Hong Kong). The trade is being driven by tough EU legislation forcing local authorities and businesses to recycle more, and increasing landfill charges, making it cheaper to send the waste abroad. More than a third of the waste paper and plastic collected by British local authorities, supermarkets and businesses for recycling is sent to China. Despite legislation banning the shipping of hazardous waste from the EU to non-OECD countries, an estimated 250,000 tonnes a year of used electrical products still flood to West Africa and Asia – hotspots are Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and China – under the guise of "used goods" or "charitable donations", allowing traders to elude these laws. In these countries they may be dismantled by unprotected workers, often children. The UN Environment Programme and the Green Customs Initiative indicate that crime syndicates earn $20 to $30bn a year from waste crime. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47% of waste destined for export was illegal. According to an International Solid Waste Association report to be released in October, worldwide trade of recyclable plastics is estimated at a total of 12m tonnes a year, valued at $5bn. It flows mainly from affluent western and northern countries to Asia, especially China, which again enjoys the lion's share with about 70% of the global market. Europe is the major collective exporter with Hong Kong, the US, Japan, Germany and the UK representing the top 5 individual plastic scrap exporters. The Guardian, Kara Moses
  • Supermarkets, currently surfing a wave of public ridicule for covering vegetables like ‘cauliflower steaks’ in plastic, argue that all this packaging is necessary to minimise food waste. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42639479

Affiliated Organisations

References

  1. ^ Saving the albatross: "The war is against plastic and they are casualties on the frontline". Following his shocking photographs of dead albatross chicks and the diet of plastic that killed them, Chris Jordan’s new film is a call to action to repair our broken relationship with planet Earth. The Guardian, Anna Turns, Mar.12.2018
  2. ^ Tory government claims credit for new policy of plastic bag charges - yet this is EU LEGISLATION that Tory MEPs VOTED AGAINST. EuroLabour.org, Jan.10.2018