Brand Audit Q+A with Alkis Kaftetzis, Greenpeace Greece

Brand Audit Q+A with Alkis Kaftetzis, Greenpeace Greece

Q&A with Alkis Kaftetzis

Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Greece

Charakas beach, Southeastern Evoia

 

1. What excites you most about the #breakfreefromplastic brand audit?

The narrative of everything being the consumer’s fault is very much ingrained in the mind of a lot of people. Big brands are very rarely included in the picture of who is responsible. The brand audit manages exactly to address this very important issue, putting the blame back to the ones who are truly addicted to single-use plastic.

Plastic pollution has an identity and it is branded by the global brands that have flooded our lives and the environment with their plastic packaging. The results of this mind blowing global effort will help the movement change the way plastic pollution is approached. ‘Cleaning up beaches’ is not enough and is tackling the problem superficially. We need more radical solutions and we need the companies to acknowledge this fact.

Sacks-of-branded-plastic-brand-audit

2. Give us a snapshot of the brand audit you coordinated.

We picked a secluded beach in central Greece, far away from any human activities and open to the Aegean. It is called Charakas, that in Greek means ruler, so jokingly the team said it will provide a good measurement of our wasteful lifestyle and unfortunately the amount of plastic waste we found there was devastating. In two days and with the help of around 100 volunteers, we managed to collect more than 20.000 litters of waste, enough quantity to fill 4 trucks.

While cleaning we also realized that the damage was irreversible. A huge amount of plastic had already broken into tiny pieces that we couldn’t pick up, covering entirely big parts of the sand and becoming part of the ecosystem there. The locals that participated in the clean up effort invited us to visit this beach in a few months, to see that it will be again filled with plastic.

In order to make the problem as visible as possible we carried a truckload of the plastic we collected back to Athens. With it we staged a public brand audit at the central square of the city, exposing the biggest polluters and providing with people a clear image that the oceans need our help.

Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit Greece

3. Tell us about your data!

We audited 3000 pieces of plastic, the majority of which were bottles and bottle lids for bottled water and soda drinks. Our champion polluter was Coca Cola, owning a little bit more than 10% of the branded plastic waste. We found a lot of waste from Turkey (around 20%) but also some plastic travellers from India, Ghana and South Africa. Who knows how they ended up in Greece.

 

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Brand Audit Q&A with Kote Melendez, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation

Brand Audit Q&A with Kote Melendez, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation

Q&A with Kote Melendez

Volunteer Coordinator, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation

Los Angeles, California, USA

 

1. What excites you most about the #breakfreefromplastic brand audit?

I am familiar with Ocean Conservancy’s approach to cleaning up the coast since I’ve had experience with the concept of “cleaning up a beach”. The brand audit is asking our volunteers to log data on branded trash. Through that journey, I was turned on by corporates being held accountable to their actions and not putting blame on common middle-class citizens. It’s forcing participants to look behind the curtain and open our eyes a little bit, we tend to buy into whatever they (Mcdonalds, etc) tell us is good, we end up purchasing whatever packaging they give us because of the good that we choose.

If corporates got on board with the impact they’re having on common every day beaches, they can actually make a big difference. The brand audit is holding big corporate accountable, not just everyday citizens when it comes to plastic pollution.

2. Give us a snapshot of the brand audit you coordinated.

Our brand audit took place on International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day on September 17th, 2018. Our volunteers understood there were two different missions going on, one for the ICC and one for the #breakfreefromplastic brand audit. We needed to convey the importance of the brand audit methodology even though it takes more time. We had a great turnout! 90 people showed up from near and far, they split into groups of 2-5 people and we noticed there were many different languages and ages involved, including girl scouts and boy scouts.

The brand audit steps were pretty straightforward to explain. Although it does add a few more steps, it resonated with those that are actually concerned to make a deeper change, for future generations to come. It’s a beautiful effort and adds a healthy amount of push to whoever is organizing an event.


3. Tell us about your data!

The brand that was found most during the cleanup was Camel.
The most common type of trash was cigarette butts from many different brands.
The most unusual piece of trash was a cup full of poop.
The largest piece of trash was a worn and torn beach ball.

The volunteers seemed eager to continue the cleanup, even took paperwork with them to different beaches after we were finished with the event. I think the idea of auditing brands for their effect on the world is appealing to those who can see the bigger picture.

 

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Beyond recycling: rethinking plastic from the ground up

Beyond recycling: rethinking plastic from the ground up

This interview was originally published by the Green European Journal and can be found online in full here.

Plastic has climbed high up the EU agenda in 2018, with the European Commission publishing its plastics strategy in January and a proposal for a directive on single-use plastics in May. Yet the fight for action against harmful, environmentally damaging plastics long precedes this. Activist and NGO leader Delphine Lévi Alvarès explains how today’s plastic crisis is about more than litter, and why we need a holistic approach with global solutions to effectively counter it.

Green European Journal: As coordinator of the global Break Free From Plastic movement and the Rethink Plastic Alliance, can you describe the global picture of the plastics problem today?

Delphine Lévi Alvarès: Over the past decades, plastics has become a worsening crisis. It is now the fastest growing pollutant and travels all over the world. Scientists have found plastic in the deepest oceans and on the most remote beaches, and even in the air we breathe and the water we drink. But that is just the visible part of plastic pollution. For decades, we have addressed plastic only as a marine litter problem, but really it’s all along the plastics value chain. Stopping plastic leaking into the environment, and into the ocean in particular, requires working upstream to reduce the production of plastics, the quantity of polymers on the market, and the chemicals added to plastic products.

Today, it is absolutely necessary to take this holistic approach. Plastic pollution starts at the extraction stage because about 99 per cent of plastic comes from fossil fuels, either oil or gas. It’s also about product design. Products must be designed to be long lasting, reusable, and toxic free for safe recycling. At the waste management stage, a lot of plastic products are not recyclable or not collected for recycling, which means that new plastic needs virgin material. And because recycling doesn’t capture the whole stream, plastic ends up in landfills where it eventually degrades and releases chemicals additives. Or it’s incinerated – which is effectively burning the fossil fuels it comes from – and releases pollutants and CO2 into the atmosphere.

So recycling is no silver bullet….

Plastic recycling can produce quite a lot of pollution, depending on how it is done. And in most cases, recycling is actually downcycling. It’s quite rare that we manage to recycle a product into the same kind of product. Usually plastics from packaging won’t be used again for packaging because in the recycling process they’re mixed with different kinds of plastics that may include chemical additives, and it’s too dangerous to have these end up in our food wrappers. Studies have found toxic chemicals, mainly flame retardants, in children’s toys made from plastics recovered from electronic devices.

All over the world the petrochemicals industry is investing hugely in producing new virgin plastic. We’re talking about an additional 100 million tonnes of plastic production per year. The 12 million tonnes that are leaking into the environment today are nothing compared to what’s coming up if we don’t take action at the production stage.

Are some countries ‘worse’ than others when it comes to plastic production and pollution?

We’ve been pointing fingers at Southeast Asia for quite some time now, saying that they’re the biggest polluters. As a global movement, Break Free From Plastic knows that the story is actually quite different around the world. Packaging in Southeast Asia is unlike what we see in Europe, mostly coming in a small, multilayered, non-recyclable format. There are a lot of plastic sachets, wraps, bags, and straws. Producers are selling a Western lifestyle but adjusting it to the resources of people there and making it harmful for them directly. Europe has made quite some progress on product design for some specific products because we have extended producer responsibility schemes that require companies to take responsibility for the social and environmental impact of the products they sell. However, these companies tend to follow double standards and act less responsibly in other continents, selling the same products there but in non-recyclable packaging and not contributing to the cost of waste collection and treatment.

These countries struggle to finance any kind of system that would help prevent leakage into rivers and the ocean. However, even in places where a lot of plastic goes into the oceans, a lot of solutions are possible and already taking off. In Asia there are zero-waste cities, places so clean that you could eat off the floor, just a few miles away from some of the giant dumps leaking into the ocean that are often shown on TV.

In recent years, the EU has been exporting half of its collected and sorted plastics, of which 85 per cent was shipped to China. Is China’s ban on imports of certain types of plastic waste at the start of 2018 an opportunity for Europe’s recycling industry?

Yes, definitely. If it’s cheaper to send waste to China or to an Asian or African country to be processed, waste management companies in Europe will send it there. If this is not possible, European recyclers will use the infrastructure that we have. Nevertheless, we will have to increase the recycling capacities in some countries and start recycling more items and plastics to prevent them from being incinerated.

In Asia there are zero-waste cities, places so clean that you could eat off the floor, just a few miles away from giant dumps leaking into the ocean

A lot of what Europe is sending to China is low-value, single-use plastics, mainly packaging. This is a moment to push for product redesign, rather than trying to find a plant in Europe that would be happy to recycle low-value plastics.

Would a concerted effort from the EU and China be enough to lead us to a ‘post-plastic’ world, or do we need to work more closely with other nations, in particular those with poor waste management systems? How important is EU leadership on plastics at the global level?

Even if the Chinese ban has been a wake-up call for some countries, particularly in the EU, it’s not a step forward for the global plastic pollution issue per se. China is doing this to protect and improve the quality of their own environment, but if plastic keeps being produced, used, and thrown away at this rate, it’s just going to end up somewhere else. Waste is now ending up in countries with even less capacity to handle it properly, so it might leak into the environment and harm the people handling it even more than before. Whole containers of plastic waste are bought by brokers and then split among different, often small family businesses, and handled in conditions that cannot be controlled. That’s where a lot of leakage happens.

But let’s be clear, a lot of plastic that is leaking into the environment in Asia actually comes from the US and from Europe. And when it’s not our waste directly, it’s often a product from our Western designers. The role of the EU is not only to make sure that producers act responsibly in Europe, but also to ensure that they are not applying double standards at the global level. If producers are taking responsibility in Europe by contributing to a system that will improve the design of products and cover part of the cost for collection, recycling, and treatment of waste, there is no reason not to do so other continents. It’s a global system with a global market for waste, product, and materials, so the answer has to be coordinated and the EU must take responsibility for the effects of its own companies and waste in other regions by supporting this process financially.

On May 28, the European Commission presented its proposal for a new directive on single-use plastics, which includes an outright ban on several throwaway plastic products. What’s your take on the Commission’s proposal?

This is definitely a leap forward in tackling plastic pollution, and a sign that the Commission has woken up. We handed over a petition in September 2017 with more than 700 000 signatures asking the Commission to think big, act big, deliver big. It’s a very positive sign that they are finally taking action on the top 10 items identified as the most problematic by scientific monitoring of marine litter. There is a big chance for this legislation to be implemented with a satisfactory level of ambition, and that this is going to have an important impact on the main sources of marine macro-pollution.

That being said, it’s a first step on some specific plastic items, while further items exist that are problematic and should be phased out. Besides, this proposal doesn’t address the chemicals issue. If we want to build the recycled material market, we need to clean the loop as early as possible in the value chain. We also don’t want to see single-use plastics being substituted by single-use products made from other materials that can contain the same chemicals, or worse.

Is it likely that the proposal will get the approval of Member States and the European Parliament?

We’ve seen quite a positive response from the media and from governments all over Europe after the directive’s publication. It was discussed extensively with governments before, and the plastics strategy was a first step in making plastics an EU issue and in building buy-in among Member States. That said, the situation is different across the EU. Some countries already had some of these regulations in place or planned and waste management is carried out differently from country to country. It’s likely that the debate will be passionate, but it’s still too soon to tell.

If we want to build the recycled material market, we need to clean the loop as early as possible in the value chain.

Even if we knew the positions of Member States at this stage, these could well evolve thanks to campaigning, awareness raising, and citizen mobilisation at the national level. Today we are witnessing a lot of people, such as in the slow food or zero waste movements, that want to change their lifestyle and ask for clean and safe products. What’s missing is the systematic availability of the offers or infrastructure to make sustainable alternatives available and cheap. This is where policies can help.

While it may be encouraging to have both the Commission’s strategy and directive, the lobby of the plastics industry is extremely big and influential. PlasticsEurope alone, one of the biggest lobbying groups in Brussels, declared its annual budget in 2016 as over 1.5 million euros. How great is the threat that industry lobbies and Member States will water down proposed action on plastics?

There has already been a lot of lobbying around the plastics strategy, and now industry lobbies are gearing up. They have been hiring quite some people in the last few months. Some companies that are members of PlasticsEurope or Recyclers, for example, are playing a double role by funding cleanups and so on — to clean up their public image as well! You see PlasticsEurope everywhere, but there is also a lot of lobbying that you don’t see. The chemicals industry is quite active but they are usually not that visible in the discussions. But ultimately it’s the same lobbies. The fossil fuels lobby, the chemicals lobby, and the plastics lobby – they are different people but they have the same interest because the companies are integrated to some extent. Plastic producers are often branches of chemicals companies, for example. It’s highly interconnected.

There are big lobbies here, but it’s really a matter of quality of the arguments rather than size. They might have a lot of money for studies, but in the end a lot of the life-cycle analysis that they use is very questionable, and even with our small budget we’ve managed to counter them to some extent. For example, one of their main arguments regarding the plastic strategy was that packaging is essential to fight food waste – but this is really not the case. In April, we published a study on plastic packaging and food waste debunking some of the myths spread by the plastics industry.

What hopes does the Rethink Plastic Alliance have for the near future, and what can NGOs and citizens do now to ensure continued progress on combating the plastic crisis beyond the directive?

We will keep working with the Parliament and the Council on the newly tabled single-use plastic legislation and other political or technical processes where plastic is addressed. Even if the focus right now is on single-use plastics, other issues, like the one of chemicals in plastics, are critical to tackle plastic pollution and build a circular economy. It’s also important to prepare for the next mandate to make sure the plastic issue isn’t dropped. There is now legislation on single-use plastics – just a first step and certainly not the last – so mobilisation at the national level involving policy-makers, citizens, and businesses is key to ensure that better options are available to people and that alternative business models are developed and implemented.

There are big lobbies here, but it’s really a matter of quality of the arguments rather than size.

These are things that we’re already doing, but it’s about intensifying them and building visibility so that national decision-makers who are playing a role in the debate at the EU level will have it in mind and go in the right direction. As it’s a global issue as well as an EU policy issue, we will keep using the network and the movement to show EU institutions that people outside Europe are watching and have high expectations.

To contribute to meeting the aims of the Commission’s plastic strategy, the 2021-2027 EU budget proposes to introduce a plastic-based EU tax in which Member States would pay 0.80 euro into the EU budget for every kilo of plastic packaging waste not recycled. Do NGOs support that proposal, and is it likely to get the Council’s support?

We do not support this measure, as it does not create any incentive to reduce plastic production or consumption. Moreover, it’s going to be once again the Member States, the taxpayers, who are made to pay, instead of the companies responsible for products not being recyclable. Member States haven’t been given the chance to implement existing measures on waste collection and recycling before this tax has been suggested, and even those that were going to meet the waste directive’s targets are going to be taxed anyway.

If we really want to have an impact on plastic pollution, we have to move away from end-of-life economic incentives and tackle the existing obstacles to a circular economy for plastics, such as the low price of crude oil that encourages companies to use virgin plastic. Europe is now producing plastics from fracked hydrocarbons imported from the US, so another option could be to tax hydrocarbons. It’s really at a very early stage in the production chain that we have to intervene to have an impact downstream.

Bioplastics have been presented by some as a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics. What is the NGO take on bioplastics?

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between bio-based and biodegradable plastics. Bio-based tells you about where they came from – the feedstock – while biodegradable is a property of the plastic. It’s also important to recognise that bio-based plastics, at least at this stage, almost always contain some fossil fuel-based plastic. Most of the bio-based feedstock that enters the market today still comes from food crops such as corn, sugarcane and beetroot, replacing the food crops cultivated for the local people’s needs. Bio-based feedstock usually comes from very intensive agriculture involving GMOs and a lot of pesticides, and is imported from countries, like Argentina, where it has a big impact on the overall equilibrium of the ecosystem. Also, bioplastics are not necessarily clean – they can still contain the same additives and chemicals as in other kinds of plastics – so just switching to another feedstock is not a solution. The solution is really prevention at source.

Promoting biodegradable products sends the message to people that littering is OK because the waste is going to biodegrade.. And when it comes to waste management, biodegradable plastics can contaminate the recycling or the composting system. As they are not recyclable in the same way as normal packaging, putting them into a separate collection system will make the whole waste stream less dense, and potentially less viable and profitable.

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Every Day is Earth Day: Plastic Waste Q&A with Mao Da

Every Day is Earth Day: Plastic Waste Q&A with Mao Da

Plastics. From the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our oceans, to the news that plastic bottles likely pollute the drinking water they contain, plastic pollution—the theme of this year’s Earth Day—has been a highly visible issue, and we’ve seen some notable progress on fighting the plastic battle.  

Pushed by NGOs and government regulations, some companies are changing the way they produce and dispose of their plastic waste. But to really begin reducing the impact of plastics on our environment and health, these efforts will have to grow across the globe. China, which is estimated to be the source of approximately 1/3 of the plastic pollutionclogging our oceans, has taken steps towards remedying its significant impact through a combination of policies and citizen-based action. The China Environment Forum talked to Mao Da, founder of China Zero Waste Alliance and co-founder of Rock Environment and Energy Institute, to learn more about how fighting plastic pollution fits in to China’s plan to be an ecological civilization.

China Environment Forum: What are the largest challenges China faces in regards to plastic pollution, and what approach is China taking to overcome them?

Mao Da: The problem of plastic pollution is huge—it’s not only a waste problem; it’s a natural resource problem, a production and consumption problem, and lifestyle problem. It is a comprehensive issue, and within China the scale of it is huge. It is impossible to face a problem of this scale without adequate high-level national policies that adopt a comprehensive and integrated perspective. We do have some laws and policies related to plastic pollution [the 2008 restrictions on ultra-thin plastic bags, the 2018 plastic waste import ban, the 2017 plan for mandatory garbage sorting in 46 Chinese cities, and developing plans to ban other forms of plastic waste in 2018]. However, these laws are fragmented and they haven’t managed the solid waste problem well, much less plastic waste.

I think China can learn from the European Union, which is currently discussing a general policy on plastic waste. Since plastic is a cross-boundary and cross-sector issue, there is no single law, policy, or regulation pointed at one facet that can cope with this huge problem, so we similarly need a national, high-level, general policy to deal with plastic pollution. Such a policy needs to contain basic principles for dealing with plastic pollution, and these principles should be similar to those of the EU, which has a hierarchy principle system that has been adopted by many other countries as well as the UN system.

550px-Waste_hierarchy.svg

This hierarchy puts source prevention as a priority, which means we need to avoid unnecessary production of plastic products. Following that is separation and recycling, and finally disposal at the bottom.

In addition to a hierarchy, China needs an overall goal—that by a certain year we will reduce our plastic waste generation and use of natural resources to produce plastic by a certain amount.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) just started the process to create a national plastic waste pollution control policy in January 2018. They established three main principles for the future policies, including:

  1. Limiting or banning some types of plastic products;
  2. Substituting some plastic products with more sustainable products; and,
  3. Regulating plastic waste recycling and disposal.

They reached out to the public for recommendations on this process, and China Zero Waste Alliance contributed advice. To a large extent, China Zero Waste Alliance agrees with NDRC’s strategy, but we also emphasize eco-design of products that are better suited for recycling and pose less harm to environmental health. We had five main suggestions regarding China’s policy planning, including:

  • the need for a comprehensive national policy;
  • a phase-out of problematic plastic products (such as plastic bags, Styrofoam, microbeads, and plastic straws);
  • a cautious approach towards integrating biomass-based plastics;
  • more financial support or incentives to support recycling; and,
  • we opposed the current renewable energy subsidy that supports burning plastic waste; this should be limited to biomass burning, not plastics.

CEF: China recently banned plastic waste imports, why? How do you think this will impact plastic waste around the world?

MD: We see the plastic ban as a positive because the basic rationale behind it is to protect the environment and peoples’ health. We have suffered many years from importing the dirtiest plastic waste. The government wants to promote domestic plastic recycling and waste separation, but if the recycling industry relies on imports there’s no incentive for them to recycle domestic waste. I know there is a global impact in the short term, creating some problem such as piles of plastic waste that cannot be shipped elsewhere to be taken care of, and China’s plastic recycling industry is struggling to do business. However, the immediate benefit is that we reduce our pollution from secondary waste recycling. Beyond this, in the long term this policy pushes every country and region to create their own recycling capacity, and only when they have their own capacity will they implement stricter regulations on the generation of plastic waste, separation, and control of the recycling process. There will no longer be a way to ship waste away and these countries will now need to care more about their environment when they have to handle the recycling themselves.

CEF: How can international coalitions come together to work towards reducing plastic pollution?

MD: There are many things to be done across three levels—the government, corporate, and NGOs. On the government level, the most important thing is to discuss an international legally binding treaty on curbing plastic pollution. Additionally, governments should share more information and data on plastic pollution, and based on that, discuss effective ways to address the problem. On the corporate level there need to be initiatives to get multinational corporations that are plastic producers or users of plastic packaging to work together to standardize plastic material use and plastic separation and recycling. Finally, NGOs are already working together to push the government and companies to do their job, while also approaching normal citizens to be more aware of this issue. For example, China Zero Waste Alliance is part of an international network, Break Free From Plastic, and we have thus developed our three pillars of action:

  1. Change the narrative.
  2. Build zero waste city models globally.
  3. Target major “fast consumer” products to reduce their plastic waste.

Mao Da is the founder of China Zero Waste Alliance and co-founder of Rock Environment and Energy Institute.

Sources: BBC, Break Free From Plastic, CCICED, China Daily, China Zero Waste Alliance, European Commission, Orb Media, Rock Environment and Energy Institute, Straits Times, South China Morning Post, WTO, Zero Waste Europe

Image Credit: Waste Hierarchy courtesy of Wikimedia.

Waste Container courtesy of Pixabay.

Written by By . Interview originally appeared at https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2018/04/default-post-3/

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