Group represents frontline communities from Europe, Mexico and Pennsylvania, along with researchers and international climate campaigners
New York, NY — A group of environmental activists, public health professionals and campaigners who are fighting fracking, climate change, petrochemicals and plastic pollution met with the United Nations to discuss the harms and threats of gas drilling and petrochemical expansion in their communities, and the necessity of stopping further extraction to combat the global climate crisis.
Activists from Mexico, Ireland and Germany were joined by frontline residents and campaigners from Pennsylvania and New York in the meeting with Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Head of New York Office at UN Environment.
The meeting was the result of an open letter sent to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres last September. That letter — organized by Food & Water Action, its European arm Food & Water Europe and the Breathe Project in Pittsburgh — was signed by nearly 460 grassroots groups, faith communities, celebrities, activists and organizations, including actors Mark Ruffalo, Emma Thompson and Amber Heard, authors and activists Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, fashion icon Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré as well as iconic children’s singer Raffi.
As the groups wrote to Secretary General Guterres, the “continued production, trade and use of fracked hydrocarbons for energy, petrochemicals and plastics torpedoes our global efforts to tackle climate change and violates basic human rights.”
The groups appealed to the United Nations to consider the critical findings it has issued over the years. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have expressed concern that fracking will make it all but impossible to achieve emissions reductions targets outlined by the Paris Agreement, as well as the impacts of fossil fuel drilling on human rights. As early as 2012, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a “Global Alert” on fracking, concluding that it may have adverse environmental impacts under any circumstances.
All speakers will appear at an evening event, “Global Impacts of Fracking: From Pennsylvania to Europe and Back,” at the CUNY School of Law in Long Island City on the evening following the UN meeting. They will be joined by Rolling Stone journalist Justin Nobel, who will discuss his bombshell article on fracking and radioactivity.
“Fracking has been linked to radioactive brine, higher rates of cancer and nervous, immune, and cardiovascular system problems,” highlights Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Concerned Health Professionals of New York together with Dr. Ned Ketyer, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. “The gathered scientific evidence shows that women, industry workers, communities of color, and the poor are especially vulnerable to environmental injustices and harm to health and safety from fracking.”
“The petrochemical industry has teamed up with the fracking industry to benefit from cheap fracked ethane to produce more unneeded and environmentally destructive plastic,” says Michele Fetting, Breathe Project together with impacted local activist Lois Bjornson. “Families are suffering from the effects of contaminated air and water and there is increasing fear as fracking activities and the petrochemical build-out show no sign of slowing down.”
“The promise of our current president to stop fracking in Mexico has not been met. All legislation favors the industry in disregard of the rights of communities in extraction areas,” underlines Claudia Campero, Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking, Mexico.
Eddie Mitchell, Love Letirim, Ireland, adds: “Now that we stopped fracking in Ireland, we’re also forced to fight the fracking industry from infiltrating our energy markets through import pipelines and LNG terminals – undermining all our efforts to move forward towards a clean energy future.”
“After over four years of evidence gathering, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal judges on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change recommended in 2019 that fracking be banned and that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment be asked to investigate the violations of the rights of humans and nature by the Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction industry,” said Scott Edwards and Andy Gheorghiu, Food & Water Action US and EU. “It’s time for the UN take action and finally recommend a global ban on fracking to tackle one of the worst crises in human history.”
Talk Fracking founder Joe Corré says: “Countries like Britain are employing smoke and mirrors strategies to continue fracking while pretending they’re not. The United Nations must impose a global fracking ban for the sake of humanity. Fracking simply puts another log on the fire of the Climate emergency. It’s no bridging fuel. It’s fossil fuel’s last stand.”
Fashion icon Dame Vivienne Westwood adds: “If we’re serious about saving the planet from Climate devastation, then Fracking – or any other form of extreme energy extraction under a different name – like Acidisation – must be totally outlawed”.
Andy Gheorghiu, Policy Advisor and Campaigner, Food & Water Action Europe, firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 160 20 30 974
Scott Edwards, Director, Food & Water Justice, email@example.com, C 914.299.1250
Science, environmental activism and a refreshing family excursion!
On November 3, 2019 Antwerpen Schaliegasvrij (Shale Free Antwerp) is organizing a plastic nurdle hunt in the Scheldt estuary. The aim of the action is to obtain a clear picture of the seriousness of the pollution caused by these ‘plastic granules’ (‘nurdles’ or ‘pellets’ in English) in the estuary of the Scheldt river. We combine science and research with a fun family day. We randomly search along the banks for plastic pellets that have been washed ashore. We take notes of the location, make pictures and collect samples. This pollution is mainly generated by the plastics industry itself. Nurdles are constantly being spilled when loading or unloading ships and trucks and eventually end up in the Scheldt.
Antwerpen Schaliegasvrij invites everyone to this child-friendly event which combines science with environmental activism and a refreshing trip along the river Scheldt. The plastic nurdle hunt is a continuation and extension of “The Great Nurdle Hunt”, an international initiative by FIDRA.
Join us between 10 am and 11:30 am at Stormkop on t’Eilandje, (Droogdokkenweg, 2030 Antwerp). From there, hunting parties leave for the nearest nurdle handling factories (production, processing or transportation). Or become a team coordinator and set up your own team in another specific area of the Scheldt Estuary. After the hunt we return to Stormkop to collect and make an inventory of the nurdle samples (not mandatory for teams operating at more remote locations outside the Port area – several collection sites will be communicated), after which we will discuss the first results with the press and all participants during an informal drink and information session.
Related news: Last week, a group of citizens from Texas succeeded in enforcing an amicable USD 50 million settlement of Formosa Plastics Corp. Formosa is a petrochemical giant and plastics manufacturing company responsible for polluting local waters with billions of plastic nurdles. The large amount of physical evidence (nurdles) collected may have been decisive in this case. It is estimated that the port of Antwerp has 6 times more plastic producing capacity.
Find out more about our event? Check our website or the Facebook event page.
Find out more about the trial in Texas? Check the press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MANILA, Philippines (June 28, 2019) — As the G20 summit opens in Osaka, Japan, a coalition of more than 800 environmental organizations worldwide is challenging the heads of state to show leadership in tackling the plastic pollution crisis by addressing overproduction, rather than focusing on waste. The proposed voluntary marine plastics framework does not address the fundamental cause of plastic pollution: the overproduction of plastic..
“As the second-largest consumer of plastic in the world, Japan should show leadership by reducing consumption and production of plastic, especially single-use plastics,” said Beau Baconguis, Asia Pacific Plastics Campaigner of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and concurrently Asia Pacific coordinator of the global #breakfreefromplastic movement.
Two weeks ago, a meeting of G20 environmental ministers in Japan resulted in a voluntary initiative to share best practices and establish standards for tracking marine plastic waste, but it stopped short of setting clear indicators or a timeline for progress. It is also largely an implementation framework for the “G20 action plan on marine litter” adopted at the G20 Hamburg Summit in Germany in 2017. The 2017 action plan focuses mostly on plastic waste and marine plastics, rather than on accelerating production and consumption, or impacts on land, air, and freshwater ecosystems.
“Plastic pollutes throughout its lifecycle — from oil and gas extraction to production all the way to final disposal. It is not only a marine litter issue. It is more importantly an overproduction issue. The G20 and Japan need to deal with the plastic pollution crisis in a holistic manner,” added Baconguis.
Most recently, Japan has announced setting aside USD 18.6 million to promote waste incineration in Southeast Asian countries. Through public-private partnerships, waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration plants will find their way to Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
“WTE Incineration directly undermines waste reduction, reuse and recycling, and incinerating plastics exacerbates climate change, and creates toxic pollution and hazardous ash. If Japan and other G20 governments are serious about resolving the plastic pollution crisis and about responding to the climate emergency, they must stop using this outdated technology and stop pushing it on other countries,” said Sirine Rached, Global Policy Advocate at GAIA.
“There is no solution to the plastic problem or to climate change that allows the industry to continue growing at 4% per year. It is time for the G-20 to rein in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries starting with broad bans on single-use plastics,” Rached added.
A 2018 UN Environment Programme report identified Japan as the world’s second largest consumer of single-use plastic packaging per person — behind the United States. G-20 nations produce half of the world’s plastic waste. Abe, who chairs the summit, has already given his intentions to prioritize this issue at the G20 summit and through domestic policies in Japan.
According to a recent Greenpeace East Asia report, Japan is also the world’s second largest exporter of plastic waste, behind the United States. fter China stopped accepting plastic waste imports in 2018, several Southeast Asian nations became new targets.
“Japan and the G20 need to get their plastic addiction under control. Instead of pointing the finger at Southeast Asian countries while dumping plastic waste on them, the G20 needs to address its own overproduction and consumption of plastic,” said Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director for GAIA.
Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic
firstname.lastname@example.org | +63 917-6070248
Sherma Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific
email@example.com | +63 917-8157570
Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific
firstname.lastname@example.org | +63 917-5969286
About BFFP – #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,400 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. www.breakfreefromplastic.org.
About GAIA – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. www.no-burn.org
When President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Save Our Seas Act into law last October, he painted a grim picture of just how dire marine plastic pollution had become.
“Every year, over 8 million tons of garbage is dumped into our oceans,” he declared. “This waste, trash and debris harms not only marine life, but also fishermen and coastal economies along America’s vast stretches.”
However, the Trump administration has refused to recognize America’s role in the ocean plastic crisis and has repeatedly tried to stymie international efforts to tackle the problem, while boosting the plastic industry at home.
Trump has blamed “many countries of the world” for the marine plastic problem, calling out China and Japan by name. “The bad news is [this garbage] floats toward us” from “other countries very far away,” the president said last year, adding that the U.S. is then “charged with removing it, which is a very unfair situation.”
While it is true that Asia is the source of an estimated 80% of marine plastic pollution, what Trump failed to mention was that most of it doesn’t actually originate there.
KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS
President Donald Trump signing the Save Our Seas Act in the Oval Office on Oct. 11, 2018.
“It’s an uncomfortable fact that … the vast majority of the waste in these Asian countries that are ending up in the oceans actually come from the U.S. and Europe,” David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law said from Geneva on Thursday.
The U.S., which is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of plastic, is also the No. 1 exporter of plastic scrap.
For decades, it sent much of this waste to China, which had processed about 45% of the world’s plastic scrap until it decided in 2018 to bar most of these imports. As a result, China’s Southeast Asian neighbors have been deluged with American plastic waste. Unlike China, however, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to properly handle this onslaught.
As a HuffPost investigation uncovered earlier this year, bales of plastic trash from countries like the U.S., U.K. and Australia are being illegally dumped or burned across Southeast Asian countries. Local activists in Malaysia said at the time that the U.S. and other wealthy nations were using the region as a “dumping ground.”
JOSHUA PAUL FOR HUFFPOST
A Greenpeace activist at a dumpsite in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Jan. 30. Unlicensed recyclers are illegally burning or dumping waste plastics at sites across the country.
Yet, despite Americans’ contribution to the global plastic waste crisis ― and despite the recent efforts of most of the world’s governments to develop solutions to address it ― the Trump administration has chosen to take an “obstructionist” stance on this issue, activists say.
The U.S. is “very clearly isolating itself from the rest of the world on this issue,” said Azoulay, who directs CIEL’s environmental health program.
Just last week, the U.S. was accused of attempting to undermine a landmark Basel Convention proposal to control the flow of plastic waste to developing countries ― a set of rules that would shut the U.S. off from many of the countries where it currently ships its plastic scrap.
“It was another clear example of the U.S. playing an obstructive role in international negotiations,” Von Hernandez, global coordinator for the Break Free From Plastic initiative, said on Tuesday, speaking from the Philippines. “This has long been their playbook for anything to do with the plastic waste trade; they obfuscate the issue, they try to delay the process.”
On Friday, 186 countries and the European Union — all parties of the 1992 Basel treaty, which controls the transboundary movement of hazardous waste between nations — signed a legally binding agreement to track and limit the trade of lower-quality, mixed and contaminated plastics. These materials are typically difficult or impossible to recycle and are the plastics that often end up in landfills or polluting waterways. They also make up the vast majority of the plastic scrap exported by developed countries to poorer ones.
The U.S. is one of two countries that signed but never ratified the Basel treaty ― and, as such, was not among the countries that signed on to the new agreement, dubbed the Norwegian amendment after the country that first proposed it. That didn’t stop the American delegation from rabble-rousing, however.
There was an overwhelming consensus in support of the amendment, an unusual scenario for international agreements of this kind, according to Hernandez, Azoulay and Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, who were all in the room during the Basel negotiations last week. Even countries that have historically been antagonistic to plastic waste regulation, like Japan and Canada, backed the proposal.
There was just one tiny faction of countries that opposed the amendment, they said. The U.S. was vocal in its opposition, they noted. The others were Argentina and Brazil, neither of which export very much plastic scrap; the South American duo appeared to parrot the U.S. line.
“The U.S. delegation’s argument was the same argument we always hear from them: ‘We need more time, we cannot make a decision now, we need more data,’” Hernandez said. “You could tell that other parties were frustrated by their behavior.”
Puckett estimated that about 90% of the plastic exported to developing countries is mixed or contaminated. Under the new agreement, which will come into effect in January 2021, parties to the convention that wish to export most mixed and contaminated plastics will first need to obtain consent from the receiving nations.
Puckett described the new rules as “historic” and one of the convention’s greatest achievements to date.
The regulations, he said, are expected to have a profoundly positive effect on the plastic waste and recycling industry worldwide. There will be more transparency to what has historically been the very opaque international trade of plastic scrap. Recyclers in wealthy nations will be compelled to improve their sorting practices, which is expected to increase the rate that plastics are actually recycled. (Since 1950, the plastic waste recycling rate has been an abysmal 9% globally.)
The measures are also expected to significantly reduce the amount of contaminated plastics flowing into Southeast Asia, Africa and other developing areas ― and, in turn, slash the amount of marine plastic pollution originating from these nations.
It’s not hard to imagine why the Trump administration would oppose the Norwegian amendment. Hernandez said the U.S. has long opposed the Basel Convention and has a terrible track record when it comes to regulations related to waste of any kind.
Plus, he noted, the new rules are expected to hit the U.S. especially hard.
According to recent estimates by industry publication Resource Recycling, the U.S. currently exports at least 80% of its mixed plastics. Since the U.S. has not ratified the Basel Convention, however, developing countries that are parties to the treaty will no longer be able to accept most mixed plastics from the U.S. under the new rules.
“As a nonparty, the U.S. won’t be allowed to trade with parties” except for the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Puckett explained, noting that OECD members are mostly high-income economies known more for exporting plastic scrap than for importing it.
“The United States has been exporting so much of its scrap [to developing countries],” Puckett said. “They’re going to have to figure out something very different” after 2021.
JOSHUA PAUL FOR HUFFPOST
A Malaysian activist checks out an illegal plastic dumping site inside a palm oil estate in Kuala Langat. Shredded plastic was spread on the ground and left here. Often, the dumpers will return and burn the piles at night.
Under Trump, a self-declared anti-globalist, the U.S. has increasingly been steered onto an isolationist path. It’s distanced itself from traditional trade partners and allies, has pulled out of international treaties like the landmark Paris climate change agreement and now, on the issue of plastics, has emerged starkly as a global outlier ― one that, according to activists, has attempted to dismantle the progress that other nations have made in this area.
Azoulay said this American separateness and antagonism was particularly obvious at a United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting held in Kenya in March. During that meeting, almost all countries agreed to a proposal calling for U.N. members to phase out “most problematic single-use plastic products by 2025.” The U.S., with the support of Saudi Arabia and Cuba, however, took issue with this pledge and ultimately succeeded in watering down the language of the commitment to say only that countries would aim to “significantly reduce” single-use plastics by 2030.
According to Azoulay, who attended the Kenya meeting, the U.S. also played a “very strong obstructionist role” during discussions about broader frameworks related to marine litter and microplastics. “Again, the U.S. was a very lonely voice opposing the [plastic proposals] at UNEA,” he said.
Azoulay, a veteran attorney of environmental law, said he’s never seen the world’s nations as united over an issue as they appear to be regarding plastic waste.
“Today, if you look at those international gatherings, almost all countries are supporting tighter controls of plastic and they’re moving very fast,” he said. “In my whole career, I’ve never seen any international regulation move as fast.”
“Since there’s such a wide consensus,” Azoulay added, America’s opposition appears even “more radical.”
Observers have suggested that Trump’s chummy relationship with the fossil fuel industry, as well as influence from the American recycling lobby, could be a root cause of the administration’s hostile position.
Plastic production had been ramping up in the U.S. even prior to Trump’s ascent to the presidency. In 2015, the American Chemistry Council, an oil and gas trade association, declared that a plastics “renaissance” was underway in the U.S.
A pump jack operating as a drill rig sits on a well pad in the Bakken Formation in Williston, North Dakota, on March 8, 2018. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
Trump’s support of natural gas and other fossil fuels has further boosted America’s plastics industry, according to Azoulay and others.
As a 2017 CIEL reports detailed, 99% of the world’s plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, and the “availability of cheap shale gas in the United States is fueling a massive wave of new investments in plastics infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad, with $164 billion planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the U.S. alone,” the report said.
If this investment is spent in the way that it’s intended, CIEL said, virgin plastic production is slated to increase by 33%-36% in the U.S. by 2025.
“With the current administration relying so much on a good relationship with the fossil fuel industry, you can see a pattern in their [international] negotiations ― they oppose any source of restriction or anything that would result in a tighter control on plastic, whether virgin plastic production or plastic waste,” Azoulay said. “Their policy line at this point is, basically, don’t touch the plastic industry and let them deal with these issues themselves.”
U.S. politics has for decades been heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry, ― and the country has historically been known for its generally anti-regulatory stance in the global arena. But Jesse Bragg of the Boston-based nonprofit Corporate Accountability International said the Trump administration has been unique in its strident approach.
Even the Obama administration, which positioned the U.S. as an environmental leader and the country that spearheaded the Paris agreement, has been accused of weakening global environmental agreements, Bragg said, noting that “if you speak to most developing countries, they’ll tell you the reason the Paris agreement is as weak as it is, is because of the U.S.” But the Obama White House took pains to obscure this side of the negotiations.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, appears to have “less interest in hiding their true intentions,” Bragg said. “It doesn’t take much to see what they’re doing … and that’s a big departure from past administrations. The Trump administration doesn’t care what the world thinks.”
This attitude, Bragg warned, is a “dangerous place to be.”
“If they don’t care what their international reputation is, there’s nothing keeping the administration from continuing the obstruction that has been the [U.S.] trend for decades,” he said, “and they can operate in some dangerous ways to advance the financial interest of those in the administration ― and those supporting the administration.”
This story is part of a series on plastic waste, funded by SC Johnson. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the company.
Article originally posted in Huffpost.
The fracking boom is driving environmental disasters like the Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) Deer Park petrochemical fire. The ITC fire isn’t the first such disaster, and so long as Texas government prioritizes oil and gas industry profits ahead of public health, it won’t be the last.
Facilities like ITC’s are proposed for the Gulf Coast and Appalachia, thanks to an overabundance of fracking byproducts like those stored in the tanks that caught fire. As the Houston Chronicle reported, “Whether these fracking byproducts are used to make plastics or nail polish, these chemicals are known to cause adverse health impacts to people.” As noted by Houston-based community justice champion TEJAS, and confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, “symptoms of acute exposure to naphtha may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. High exposures can cause lightheadedness and fatigue while repeated exposure may cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Xylene exposure at high levels can lead to irritation of eyes, nose and throat; cause difficulties breathing; problems with lungs; delayed reaction times; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort and possibly changes in liver and kidneys. It can cause unconsciousness and even death at high levels.”
The Center for International Environmental Law Plastics and Health report documents these same chemicals are found in air surrounding fracking sites, where nearby communities have reported similar health impacts.
For coastal communities like Deer Park, health impacts are coupled with climate change impacts. Recent studies by NASA and others link the global spike in methane — a climate pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — with oil and gas production. We don’t yet know the long-term health impacts from Hurricane Harvey, and with state and federal officials declining full disclosure of its environmental impacts, we may never know.
With petrochemical infrastructure on the rise, we can expect more “Deer Parks” and even more undocumented impacts to fence-line communities not located adjacent to a major metropolitan area. That’s partially because our state regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), protects the well-being of the oil and gas industry first, not Texas’ communities. TCEQ’s failures at ITC Deer Park, proven by its long list of unpunished environmental violations, suggest thousands more polluting facilities receiving the same (lack of) oversight.
The oil and gas industry is rapidly building petrochemical infrastructure to ensure continued fossil fuel dependency — as power and transportation electrify — just when we must make use of a very short window of opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases to prevent catastrophic climate change.
When will Texas start putting people over profit? Not yet. Next Wave Energy LP’s $600M Deer Park petrochemical facility was recently approved with tax incentives to boot, revenue that should benefit the community-at-risk is instead profiting the company. But state Sen. Judith Zaffirini has proposed a bill to help protect children from oil and gas production’s environmental risks. We need that enacted, but even if that happens (unlikely given our governor and legislative leaders), communities like Deer Park would be unprotected from petrochemical plants. To protect everyone we need comprehensive reform of state oil and gas oversight that puts Texas communities first. Soon thereafter, we need to transition to a renewable energy economy — the well-being of our neighbors, friends, families and future depends on it.
Priscilla Villa is the Houston-based South Texas Organizer at Earthworks. Article originally posted in Galvnews.