“This was an opportunity to be a part of change in the world. Fighting against the plastic monster has been my main focus for over ten years. Plastics are one of the biggest threats to the planet.” – Camy Mathlouthi, founder of Pour Une Tunisie Propre et Verte movement
According to this 2018 WWF report, the global cost of ocean plastic pollution is approximately $13 billion USD per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems. This includes financial losses incurred by fisheries and tourism, two sectors which provide many jobs in my country of Tunisia on the southern Meditteranean coast.
Today, the Meditteranean is one of the seas with the highest concentrations of plastic pollution in the world, with plastic accounting for 95% of the waste in its open sea, on its seabed and on its beaches (WWF 2018). Much of this waste washes up on our beaches in Tunisia, but this plastic comes mainly from Turkey and Spain, followed by Italy, Egypt and France (WWF 2018).
Pour Une Tunisie Propre et Verte – “For a Clean and Green Tunisia” – is a movement trying to spread the word by engaging students and youth to be environmental stewards. We accomplished many beach cleanups, workshops and continue to work as hard as we can to reach people in all areas of Tunisia.
Break Free From Plastic provides a real vehicle to attack this huge problem. The 2019 Brand Audit helps to accurately identify the big corporate polluters through citizen science. As environmental activists and citizens of the world, we are committed to influence these big corporate polluters to change the packaging of their products. This is the most efficient way to reduce plastic pollution all over the world. It is our duty to our environment, for our children, and for our grandchildren.
On World Cleanup Day 2019, we conducted our own brand audit for the first time. We explained the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit initiative to our volunteers, and all of our crew was motivated and committed to following the BFFP brand audit methodology. At the end of the clean up, people told me that they “feel so good helping our nature.” The neighborhood locals in the neighborhood of Ezzahra (where we conducted our cleanup and brand audit) were very grateful as well, telling us “Thanks folks! Nice mission for the country and the planet!”
As a teacher, it is my personal mission to make the new generation aware of the dangers that threaten our planet. Plastics cause major damage to the Mediterranean. As a mother and grandmother, it is my responsibility to participate, protect and care about the next generation. Our Mediterranean is worth it.
Recently, in September 2019, Facebook announced a ban on single-use plastic bottles on its campuses worldwide. The company received widespread praise for this step, and Von Hernandez, a 2003 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, hopes that it leads other corporations to follow suit and make a commitment to banning not only the use of—but also the production of—single-use plastics globally.
Hernandez received the Goldman Prize for leading a campaign in the Philippines that secured the world’s first national ban on incinerators. Incinerators create toxic waste that is then released into the air and buried in landfills, which leach into the water supply and oceans. The ash produced in the process contains heavy metals that are linked to birth defects and other severe negative health outcomes.
Von Hernandez with Richard Goldman at the 2003 Goldman Prize ceremony in San Francisco
Hernandez parlayed the visibility and support he received for winning the Prize into his next pursuit—he is now the global coordinator of Break Free From Plastic. The international organization’s goal is to drastically reduce the production of plastic pollution, which causes irreparable harm to oceans, sea and land animals, and humans. For them, the solution includes convincing individuals—and workplaces—to change consumption habits and replace plastics with reusable alternatives. They also seek to apply pressure throughout each step along the plastic supply chain, from production to disposal.
“When we created Break Free From Plastic, we agreed that to achieve our vision of a future free from plastic pollution, we needed to look at the issue in a holistic way,” Hernandez says. “This means looking at plastic at the different stages of the life-cycle, and not just treating it as a waste management or consumer responsibility issue, which is what the plastic industry wants. Looking at it that way takes the industry off the hook and allows it to continue producing even more plastics.”
Here are a few disturbing facts on plastic:
- If there are no drastic interventions, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
- Today, the world consumes an estimated five trillion plastic bags per year and only about 1% is recycled.
- Nearly a million plastic bottles per minute are produced—about 480 million single-use plastic bottles in 2016.
- Plastic takes years to break down. The Marine Conservancy estimates that it takes 450 years to break down a plastic bottle and 400 years to break down disposable diapers.
For Hernandez, turning his attention to plastics was a natural outgrowth of his work banning waste incineration, as both are forms of hazardous waste—usually created by multinational companies in the Global North and disproportionately impacting the Global South.
Hernandez says that when large-scale awareness of the damage caused by plastics began, the onus was placed on developing countries, mainly in the Global South. However, he says, that is a false narrative. “The crisis is being driven by multinationals,” he says.
Break Free From Plastic differs from other groups fighting for a plastic ban in its focus on the entire value chain. Many people equate plastic waste—think all those plastic bottles and six-pack rings strewn on beaches—with their negative impact on oceans, but that is just one byproduct of the problem.
“I think it’s fair to say that the issue of marine litter was initially driving the agenda on plastics,” he says. “But, more and more, people are waking up to the reality that this issue is much broader than that. Plastic pollution is a public health issue. It is a climate issue. And an environmental justice issue. We need to consider the entire plastic life-cycle, from the extraction of fossil fuels, to the transformation of fossil fuel by-products into plastics by petrochemical plants, and the manufacture and consumption of various plastic products, which leads to waste disposal, including incineration of plastic that releases the most toxic substances known to science. Then there is still leakage into the environment and the ocean, where these waste plastics, along with their chemical additives, break down into microplastics, which are, in turn, ingested by fish, birds, and marine life before ending up on our dinner plates.”
The greatest culprits driving the increase in the production of plastics are the oil and gas companies together with their petrochemical industry affiliates (including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies), as 99% of plastics are created from fossil fuels. 
Therefore, Hernandez says, the responsibility for reducing plastic waste should not lie with the individual (although he certainly encourages everyone to reduce their personal use of plastic products), or even local governments, but rather with the fossil fuel industry and the multinational corporations whose business models are heavily dependent on throw-away and disposable plastic. According to the brand audits conducted by Break Free From Plastic members around the world, consumer goods companies—like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle—are among the most prolific plastic polluters across the planet.
During the organization’s brand audits, members document the plastic production and distribution by a company and publicize this information. In 2019, thousands of people conducted 700 brand audits in 84 countries (the organization has created a toolkit for those who want to participate).
“We need to challenge the current narrative on plastics and hold corporations to account for their role in perpetuating this crisis,” he says. “The real solution does not lie in more recycling or better waste management; it lies in reducing the amounts of plastic being produced and deployed into our societies. We need to compel companies and retailers to significantly invest in alternative delivery systems, especially refill and reuse models, which do not rely on throwaway plastic to bring their goods to the consumer.”
Hernandez notes that “companies cannot say they are concerned about the problem and yet continue to justify their reliance on the same ‘disposable plastic’ business model. Recycling will never be enough to solve this crisis. Industry knows very well that its track record on this has been dismal, with less than 10% of plastics produced since the 1950s having been recycled.”
Break Free From Plastic also frames the problem as an environmental justice issue. Companies often locate petrochemical plants and refineries in or near poor communities—including in the United States, Hernandez says.
Governments must play a role, too, by enacting the right set of policies that place responsibility for this problem mainly onto corporations, which have been knowingly creating and instigating this crisis. Banning single-use and problematic plastics is a step in the right direction.
Hernandez also points to a wave of policy changes that resulted, at least in part, from education by and advocacy from Break Free From Plastic. Earlier this year, the European Union adopted a directive to ban single-use plastics and require corporate responsibility around the issue.
Hernandez notes that the credibility and support generated from winning the Goldman Prize has been a critical factor in his ability to grow the movement. “The Prize is part of who I am,” he says. “The Prize has given me a bigger platform to work on these issues on a global, not just national, level. The Prize itself has been associated with the need to defend the rights of communities and their struggles to oppose environmental injustice, wherever that happens. For this reason, I am always honored to be carrying the badge of the Goldman Prize.”
Several other Prize winners are currently engaged in fighting plastic pollution, says Hernandez. He works with Yuyun Ismawati (2009) of Indonesia, who is leading a national coalition working to implement zero waste programs in her country. Other Prize winners who are active members of Break Free From Plastic include Prigi Arisandi (2011), also from Indonesia, Bobby Peek (1998) from South Africa, Russia’s Olga Speranskaya (2009), and Ricardo Navarro (1995) from the El Salvador.
Together with allies in the movement, Hernandez is encouraged by the impact that the movement has made, and he sees that the momentum for change on this issue is likely to escalate further.
“Just over the last three years, the narrative around plastic has started to shift. An increasing number of governments are taking action against single-use plastics and our movement itself has been experiencing phenomenal growth,” he says. “For us, these developments show that people want real, lasting, and systemic change. We are hopeful that together with other movements, we will be able to transform the system into one that is respectful of our ecological limits and the rights of communities and future generations.”
What’s wrong with America Recycles Day?
“America Recycles Day” and its host organization, Keep America Beautiful both have nice-sounding names, but that’s part of the problem. While the organization Keep America Beautiful seems like a friendly non-profit, in reality, it is an industry-sponsored group that lends public credibility to corporate interests. According to investigations including a recent exposé in The Intercept, packaging and beverage industries formed Keep America Beautiful in the 1950s to stop fledgling regulations on single-use disposables from spreading.
Through a series of ad campaigns spread out over decades —including the infamous “Crying Indian” commercial, which uses racist tropes about indigenous peoples to co-opt centuries of indigenous environmental stewardship and land struggles — the organization built a narrative around “litter” that diverts responsibility the growing plastic pollution problem away from corporations and onto individual consumers. America Recycles Day is an extension of this industry greenwashing. Keep America Beautiful’s corporate partners currently include some of the world’s top plastic polluters, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle. Several of these have lobbied against much-needed waste reduction solutions, such as bottle deposit legislation and bans on single-use disposables. In positioning recycling as the ultimate solution to our waste problem, corporate producers have meticulously evaded responsibility for the waste they create by claiming their products are “recyclable.”
So Keep America Beautiful is a little dodgy… but recycling is still a good thing, right?
Villagers pick through discarded imported plastic that was dumped there by a nearby paper recycling company whose imported paper was contaminated with plastic, in Sumengko Village, near Gresik, Surabaya, Indonesia on 21st February, 2019.
Even with the best available recycling technology, the maximum recycling level for the current mix of plastics produced be somewhere between 36% and 53%. Municipalities are burdened with the massive, costly task of collecting, sorting, and processing recycled waste. This task has become more difficult now that more and more Asian countries are following China’s lead in rejecting imports of American recyclables. Our recycling systems aren’t equipped to deal with the staggering volume of plastic waste produced in this country. Much of this discarded plastic waste, including multi-layered plastics (such as potato chip bags), is extremely difficult and costly to recycle. Since they can’t, in a practical sense, be recycled, they end up in landfills, incinerators, and the environment. Domestic end markets for recycled materials are lacking, partly because the shale fracking boom makes virgin plastic extremely cheap: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle only use 9%, 3%, and 2% recycled content in their products, respectively. We’ve only recycled 9% of all the plastics ever produced, while plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050. Recycling is simply not enough.
So should we even bother with recycling?
Recycling is not enough, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about recycling altogether. We need to work with municipalities and mission-based recyclers to improve our recycling systems. Real recycling requires universal access to recycling and composting services, as well as education, outreach, and incentives to help people separate their waste correctly. Policymakers should also require producers to use minimum recycled content, which would be one of many initiatives required to boost local economies by building domestic markets for recycled materials.
We also need to make sure risky burn technologies promoted by some of Keep America Beautiful’s sponsors such as “chemical recycling” (usually meaning plastic-to-fuel) aren’t sold to cities as sustainable waste management strategies. “If it doesn’t protect our health and the environment and prevent the need for more resource extraction, it’s not recycling”, according to the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers.
If recycling isn’t enough, what is?
Recycling is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that must include upstream solutions to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. Communities and businesses across the world are working with local governments to get their municipalities on the road towards zero waste: they’re supporting initiatives around reuse and refill, organizing around product redesign, implementing bans on single-use disposables, improving collection services, and much more. Visit zerowasteworld.org to find stories and case studies about these powerful, placed-based zero waste solutions that are supporting both environmental and social goals. Corporations need to play their part, too. They’ve profited by externalizing the costs of their waste onto our communities and environment for too long — it’s time to force them to take real, measurable actions towards reducing their waste and sustainably managing the end life of their products. Keep America Beautiful’s stated mission of inspiring and educating “people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment” is best exemplified by the global movement of sanitation workers, small businesses, sustainability departments, and community-based organizations working to Break Free From Plastic and build holistic solutions towards zero waste.
Plastic Monster-in-the-box installations delivered at the DENR headquarters
Quezon City, Philippines (November 14, 2019) — Environmental groups belonging to the global #breakfreefromplastic movement today delivered monstrous plastic installations at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to expose the agency’s hypocritical and pro-industry stance on plastic pollution.
Representatives of environmental organizations Ecowaste Coalition, Greenpeace Philippines, GAIA Asia Pacific, Mother Earth Foundation, Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Mga Mangangalakal sa Longos (NLM), and Samahan ng Mangangalakal ng Scrap sa Capulong (SMMC) delivered three monstrous jack-in-the-box installations made out of single-use plastics bearing the names of the top corporate polluters found in recent brand audits conducted by local groups in the Philippines. The groups stressed that the delivery was intended to remind the DENR of its mandate to protect the environment and for the agency to stop serving as an apologist for the plastics industry and the companies who profit from the extensive use of single-use and throwaway plastic packaging that often end up polluting and blighting waterways and ecosystems.
“By putting the blame on consumers and promoting false solutions such as waste-to-energy incineration technologies, and bioplastics, the DENR is in effect promoting the agenda of an industry that wants to continue with their business as usual polluting practices. This makes the agency, mandated to safeguard our environment, actually complicit in perpetuating the plastic pollution crisis. Plastic pollution is not a joking matter,” said Beau Baconguis, Asia-Pacific Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic and Plastics Campaigner of GAIA Asia Pacific. “The DENR should stop clowning around with its mandate and start offering real solutions to this crisis,” she added.
For his part, Jove Benosa, Ecowaste Coalition’s Zero Waste Campaigner, said: “DENR officials have been mouthing industry lines that products sold in sachets and other single-use plastics benefit the poor. In reality, the poor communities are the ones suffering from the impacts of plastic pollution. What is urgently needed now is a national ban on single-use plastics and packaging, as suggested by President Duterte himself. In addition, the National Solid Waste Commission must release the long-overdue list of non-environmentally acceptable packaging and products.”
Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Abigail Aguilar added that the proposed national ban on single-use plastics should aim for a drastic reduction of the manufacture of single-use plastic products and packaging and their eventual elimination from the market. “Importantly, this ban must include the phaseout of sachet packaging, and direct companies to redesign packaging for their products, and give incentives to reuse, refill, and other alternative delivery systems,” said Aguilar.
Meanwhile, Maricon Alvarez, Program Manager, Mother Earth Foundation, called for strict implementation of RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. “In developing countries like the Philippines, our work with communities has demonstrated that Zero Waste is a practical, viable, and sustainable solution to our waste problem. Single-use plastics (SUPs) are the biggest enemy of communities aiming for Zero Waste as these can neither be recycled nor composted. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to ban these problematic materials,” she said.
This “people’s delivery” is part of #breakfreefromplastic’s Global Week of Action from November 6 to 15 this year. Following a series of brand audits held worldwide, #breakfreefromplastic recently revealed this year’s top corporate plastic polluters. #ends
Notes to Editors:
- BreakFree From Plastic’s Brand Audit 2019 results: https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/globalbrandauditreport2019/
- DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda’s interview on ABS-CBN’s “Failon Ngayon” https://youtu.be/7rJw9TAvR_M
Break Free From Plastic movement is composed of 1,800 organizations worldwide demanding massive reductions in single-use plastics and pushing for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.
Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic
email@example.com | +63 917 607 0248
Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific
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Dhaka, 3rd November, 2019: Every year, about 87,000 tonnes of single-use plastic are thrown away in Bangladesh. The findings revealed from ESDO study. Considering the serious health and environment impact, single use plastic needs to be banned as soon as possible. An awareness and consultation workshop entitled “Single Use Plastic: Hidden Cost of Health and Environment” was organized by Environment and Social Development Organization- ESDO on Sunday at Four Seasons Restaurant, Dhaka.
The workshop revealed present scenario of using single use plastic in Bangladesh. Former Secretary of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Chairperson of ESDO Syed Marghub Murshed graced the event as the Chief Guest. He said, “Plastic pollution is an immense environmental problem that requires an immediate solution. Government should take initiatives to ban the single use plastic.” He said, “There are enough innovative alternatives that can promote and encourage for mass uses.”
Advisor and Head of ESDO technical Committee: Mokhlesur Rahman, Former Additional IGP, Bangladesh Police, Professor Dr. Md. Abul Hashem, Former Professor, Department of Chemistry, Jahangirnagar University and Professor Abu Zafar Mahmud, Former Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Dhaka was present at the workshop. Secretary General of ESDO Dr. Shahriar Hossain, and Executive Director, Siddika Sultana and other team members of ESDO were present on this workshop. However, the workshop was attended by many stakeholders from different sectors including experts, activists, academicians, policy makers, media and general mass.
Single-use plastics are those plastic which can be used only one time before thrown away or recycled. Plastics are made up of many chemical components that are released into the environment when improperly disposed. In addition, many types of plastics contain additives. People are exposed to these chemicals not only during manufacturing, but also by using plastic packages, because some chemicals migrate from the plastic packaging to the foods they contain. Contamination from plastic packaging can give rise to the gradual development of chronic health problems as serious as endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and development of problems in children. However, serious damage to respiratory, renal and cardiovascular systems is also induced from the continuous use of chemically contaminated single use plastic products.
Plastic Teabags release billions of microparticles and nanoparticles into Tea. A very recent study report disclosed that the widespread use and mismanagement of plastics has led to a significant environmental burden of growing concern. Plastic from consumer goods can break down into microplastics and nanoplastics complicating their detection and quantification. The nano-sized fraction of plastic is particularly difficult to identify in complex organic matrices such as soils and foods. Microplastics defined as particles ranging from 100 nm to 5 mm in size and nanoplastics as particles ≤100 nm in size.
Professor Abu Zafar Mahmud expressed his opinion by saying “Plastic pollution is a significant environmental problem. Single Use Plastic leached toxic substances gets accumulated in the environment by contaminating air, water and soil, from there humans inhale and ingest these and suffer from vulnerable impacts. So immediately we need efficient solution otherwise we can’t control the flow of plastic pollution.”
Professor Dr. Md. Abul Hashem said. “At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposures to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals. People worldwide are exposed at multiple stages of this lifecycle.”
To cut down on plastic pollution, ESDO is putting forth recommendations for consumers and for the government. ESDO strongly recommends that the government of Bangladesh pass a complete ban on SUP. “Bangladesh must follow the example of India and other nations in banning single-use plastics, or we risk being overwhelmed as manufacturers and importers turn their attention on us,” says ESDO Secretary General Dr Shahriar Hossain. “Banning single-use plastics is a necessary move to protect the health and environment of Bangladesh. Fortunately, cost-effective alternatives are widely available.” For instance, straws made up of bamboo sticks are being widely used and manufactured in hilly regions of the country. In Kushtia district, compostable ice cream cups are produced from leaves. “Local production of plant-based alternatives can provide rich opportunities to increase local sustainable manufacturing and jobs throughout Bangladesh,” explains ESDO Executive Director Siddika Sultana.
Although Bangladesh banned single-use plastic shopping bags in 2002, ESDO notes that the country has fallen behind in regulation since then. Most recently, India has announced a ban on all forms of single use plastic in October 2019, and seeks to completely phase out single use plastic products by the year 2022. The island of Bali, Indonesia has banned single use plastics including bags, straws and Styrofoam as of July 2019. France is the first country to announce a total ban on SUP, to be effective from 2020. London plans to impose ban on the usage of single use plastics to be implemented from April 2020.
In 1989, under the leadership of Dr. Shahriar Hossain a few enthusiastic people initiated anti polythene campaigning in Bangladesh. ESDO is the first organization initiated campaign against the single use plastic shopping bag in 1990 and organized a nation-wide anti-polythene campaign. After long efforts ESDO is succeeded to ban the production and use of polythene in January 1, 2002 in Dhaka city and March 1, 2002 in countrywide. Now ESDO is focusing on banning single-use plastics (SUP).
For more Information:
Program Associate, ESDO
Around the world, one million plastic bottles are bought and sold every minute. That’s a vast amount of single-use plastic being created and thrown away, and much of it ends up littering our beaches and choking our rivers and oceans.
We didn’t think it needed to be this way and in 2015, environmental campaigner Natalie Fee launched the non-profit, City to Sea. Our mission is to prevent marine plastic pollution by tackling some of the most polluting single-use items and providing practical solutions to help people switch from single-use to reusables.
Refill is our award-winning campaign to eradicate plastic pollution caused by bottled water by making it easy, free, and simple to reuse and refill your water bottle on the go. The campaign works by connecting people who are looking for water with thousands of local shops, cafés, transport hubs, and public spaces where they can refill for free via a location-based app.
Through our network of almost 400 community schemes across the UK, we’ve established over 25,000 refill stations – all of which are easy to find through our location-based app, Refill. We want to make it the norm for people to carry a bottle with them in the knowledge that they can easily find free tap water at any time.
With buy-in from the water industry at a national level and support from retailers and high-street chains, as well as influencers and celebrity endorsements, it’s clear we’ve tapped into something that people care about.
And we’ve seen great success. We now have more than 250,000 app users and by the end of 2019, we’ll have stopped over 100 million plastic bottles entering the waste stream in the UK alone! Wahooooo!
Of course, water bottles are just one part of the plastic problem, and we want to find new ways to solve it! In the next few months, we’re expanding the Refill campaign to cover more than just drinking water to include other refillable products – helping to provide a one-stop-shop for avoiding single-use plastic and encouraging consumers to refill coffee cups, lunchboxes, and groceries, as well as cleaning products and toiletries.
Many high-street coffee chains already let you bring in a reusable cup for hot drinks and some supermarkets are bowing to consumer pressure by allowing people to bring their own containers to the meat, fish and deli counters.
As public awareness grows, brands and businesses like these are getting more engaged in offering solutions. It’s our aim to bring these things together, putting all the information in one place so we can all find out through the app where to go to save time, money, and the oceans!
Not only that, we’re going global as well, with Refill schemes already established in Japan, Chile, Portugal, Australia, and plans to roll out across Europe in 2020. In June 2020, we’ll be building on the success of National Refill Day which we’ve run for the last 2 years in the UK and will be working with our Refill schemes, partners and communities around the world to launch International Refill day. The Refill Revolution is going global!
For City to Sea, Refill is the simple, common sense solution that makes you feel good about doing your bit. We don’t want to make people feel bad about their choices, we want to inspire them to make more conscious, positive ones which we can demonstrate make a real, tangible difference to our planet.
Download the FREE app and find out how to get involved with the campaign here.