Dozens of companies launch US$1 billion bid to end plastic pollution in Asia but environmentalists dismiss it as ‘greenwashing’ stunt

Dozens of companies launch US$1 billion bid to end plastic pollution in Asia but environmentalists dismiss it as ‘greenwashing’ stunt

  • Since China banned plastic waste imports in January 2018, Southeast Asia has become the world’s dumping ground

  • Thailand had a 2,000 per cent jump in the imports of US plastic waste in the first six months of 2018

A new oil and chemical industry-led global alliance founded to tackle Asia’s crippling plastic waste crisis has been slammed by environmental groups as a “greenwashing” stunt.

The “Alliance to End Plastic Waste” (AEPW) consortium of more than 30 companies launched last month, dedicating a combined total of US$1 billion over the next five years – aiming for US$1.5 billion if more conglomerates join – to develop better plastic recycling practices and infrastructure around the world.

Its founding members include companies such as Chevron, Dow, Formosa Plastics, Mitsubishi Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Sumitomo Chemical, and Shell.

A alliance of conglomerates led by oil and chemical giants, including Shell, says it is aiming to “end plastic waste”. Photo: EPA

The group said it would start in Southeast Asia – namely in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – the four countries that, along with China, are estimated by the Ocean Conservancy to generate more than 60 per cent of the plastic trash in oceans.

The alliance announced that it was partnering with the United Nations, the National Geographic Society and Project STOP in Indonesia, among other organisations.

These companies want to appear to be … concerned about plastic pollution, while they continue to churn out plastics

GREENPEACE MALAYSIA

Speaking at the launch, Laurent Auguste, vice-president of the waste management company Veolia, said Southeast Asia was the first stop because the region’s rapid development and expanding middle class had “changed consumption patterns”.

“At the same time, there has been a lack of investment in waste management and infrastructure,” Auguste said. He added that the group would work with a project called Circular Capital to provide funding for Southeast Asian entrepreneurs willing to develop collection and processing sites for recycling plastic waste.

Almost at once, the alliance drew fire from regional environmental groups over the campaign’s intent and location.

“We have reasons to be sceptical with the newly launched Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which is led by chemical and plastic industries. The conflict of interest is obvious,” said Daniel Alejandre of the EcoWaste Coalition in the Philippines.

“Can we expect this alliance to ditch single-use plastics in favour of sustainable packaging and delivery systems that will conserve resources and stop chemical and plastic pollution of our oceans? The answer is probably not.”

He continued: “Also, we fear that their US$1 billion pledge will only be used for cosmetic waste management projects to conceal the real problem and block the real solution.”

A alliance of conglomerates led by oil and chemical giants, including Shell, says it is aiming to “end plastic waste”. Photo: EPA

‘AN ASIAN PROBLEM’

Since China banned plastic waste imports in January 2018, Southeast Asia has become the world’s dumping ground. In just one example, Thailand had a 2,000-per-cent jump in the imports of US plastic waste in the first six months of 2018.

In November, Greenpeace Malaysia issued a statement: “The Malaysian plastic recycling industry is overwhelmed by the influx and cannot accommodate waste in a way that is sustainable and acceptable by the government’s own standards.” The group said that Malaysia had become a trash bin for plastic recycling from more than 19 countries, including the US, the UK and Australia.

“It seems that the illegal entry of plastic garbage from overseas in the guise of recycling has aggravated our woes,” said Alejandre of the Manila-based EcoWaste Coalition. “We have seen that plastic waste no longer allowed to enter China is now being sent to countries in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, for so-called recycling – but it is rarely retrieved or recycled.”

Data from the Korea Custom Service showed that waste exports to the Philippines increased from 4,398 tons in 2017 to 11,588 tons in 2018 after Beijing’s ban.

According to Greenpeace Malaysia, 90 per cent of plastic waste is exported from high-income countries, but only 9 per cent of it is recycled. Roughly 12 per cent is burned, it said, and the rest – roughly 80 per cent – ends up in landfills, oceans or the environment.

Southeast Asia government’s have started to react. In the past few months, the Philippines has twice shipped back exported plastic waste from South Korea. In July, Vietnam banned new licenses for the import of waste and took measures against illegal shipments. In October, Thailand said it would stop plastic waste imports by 2021, and Malaysia announced that it would permanently ban plastic waste imports in same timeframe.

The AEPW, which includes some of the biggest global plastics giants, said it was formed to fight the problem.

“Everyone agrees that plastic waste does not belong in our oceans or anywhere in the environment. This is a complex and serious global challenge that calls for swift action and strong leadership,” said David Taylor, the chief executive Procter & Gamble, and chairman of the AEPW, in a launch statement.

“This new alliance is the most comprehensive effort to date to end plastic waste in the environment.”

But environmentalists were having none of it.

“We consider this alliance a greenwashing operation. It’s like the firefighters who started the fire,” said Tom Zoete, a spokesman for the Brussels-based Recycling Netwerk, referring to the practice of an industry or company trying to appear to be more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

“As for Southeast Asia, there are two possible answers for why they are starting there. You could argue that you could make a bigger difference in the countries that don’t have developed waste-disposal systems.

“But we think there is another agenda: focusing on Southeast Asia is a way to tell the US and western Europe that this crisis is far away – it’s an Asian problem.”

Rubbish collectors clearing plastic trash on Kuta beach, Bali. Photo: AFP

A DEAFENING SILENCE

Among the many critics of AEPW, the most vocal has been Greenpeace, the Amsterdam-based environmental watchdog.

Its Malaysia affiliate told the Post that many of the members who pledged US$1 billion to fight plastic waste also “invested US$186 billion between 2010 and 2017 into new facilities for plastic production”.

“These companies want to appear to be environmentalists concerned about plastic pollution, while they continue to churn out plastics for profit. Fossil fuel companies plan to expand plastic production by 40 per cent in the coming years, locking us into decades of worsening plastic pollution,” the group said in an email this week to the Post.

“Corporations are attempting to make themselves look green, but we know this is really about protecting their bottom line. The only way to keep plastics out of our environment is to stop producing so much to begin with.”

Graham Forbes, the head of Greenpeace Global Plastics, was even more direct when the AEPW was formed: “This is a desperate attempt from corporate polluters to maintain the status quo on plastics. Make no mistake about it: plastics are a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry, and today’s announcement goes to show how far companies will go to preserve it.”

Yet Laurent Auguste, the head of Veolia, was quoted as saying that the AEPW is not just about making “lofty commitments” before going back to the plastics business. And Peter Baker, chief executive of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, called the AEPW campaign “unprecedented in size, in scope, in positions in the sector and geographic spread”.

“History has shown us that collective action and partnerships between industry, governments and NGOs can deliver innovative solutions to a global challenge like this,” said Bob Patel, chief executive of LyondellBasell, and a vice-chairman of the AEPW.

“The issue of plastic waste is seen and felt all over the world. It must be addressed and we believe the time for action is now.”

Even so, amid the accusations of greenwashing, the AEPW has been quiet. It has made few public statements since its launch and multiple request for comment by the Post were ignored.

The silence has left some industry insiders wondering, what’s next?

About eight million tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into the world’s oceans every year – over half of which comes from five China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Photo: AFP

Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, pointed out that industry-led campaigns such as this have been around for 30 years. This time, he said, the AEPW appears “aware of the situation in Southeast Asia, and the focus is pretty direct”.

“Tremendous anti-plastic sentiment that has percolated up. They are very aware of the situation,” Alexander said.

“What’s intriguing to me, is that the big brands have aligned themselves with the project. And though they won’t really be negatively affected if it doesn’t work, it make a big difference. They’re admitting it and are being the face of it: they put their chins out there.

“This is good start,” he said. “It sure as heck beats not doing anything.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Green groups slam industry bid to reduce plastic waste.
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#Fracking4Plastics – a link that drives plastic and climate pollution

#Fracking4Plastics – a link that drives plastic and climate pollution

By Andy Gheorghiu, Food and Water Europe

I guess that when people think of plastic pollution most of the time they think of single use plastic items (such as plastic bags, cotton buds, plastic straws, and food & beverage packaging).

I also guess that – when people think about getting active against plastic pollution –  some people would like to introduce bans on single-use plastic bags and cotton buds as well as bottle deposit-return and recycling schemes – basically trying to help reduce the use of polluting plastic in their daily lives.

However, the core of the problem lies in the business of  virgin plastic production where the key corporations totally rely on, or even represent major oil and gas companies. Unfortunately, these guys are not keen to reduce plastic production at all because that’s what makes both theirs and their shareholders deep pockets happy.

Shale gas and fracking is creating a plastics renaissance in the U.S.

It is increasingly clear that the plastics industry in the United States has reaped massive hidden benefits from the environmentally destructive fracking boom. Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) injects large quantities of fresh water, sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to release oil and gas that are tightly held in rock layers.

The fracking boom has also produced an oversupply of cheap ethane in the past few years. This surge has been a boon for the plastics industry, which relies on petrochemical manufacturing to turn ethane (i.e. the so-called “wet gas” component of natural gas) into plastics. According to a recently published IEA report, the United States is home to around 40% of the global production capacity for ethane-based petrochemicals.

Petrochemicals are about to rapidly becoming the largest driver of global oil (including “wet gas” or ethane) consumption – ahead of trucks, aviation and shipping. Today, the chemical sector is already the largest industrial consumer of fossil fuels, accounting for 14% of global oil (including ethane) and 8% of gas primary demand. The IEA expects that cheap ethane consumption will grow by 70% until 2030, in part due to the expansion of US exports to regions such as Europe.

According to the American Chemistry Council, a total investment of $202.4 billion for 333 petrochemical projects have been announced since 2010, with 53 percent already completed or under construction. Appalachia, a region in Pennsylvania that has been already hit hard by massive fracking development in the last 10 years could turn into the largest gas-producing region in the US (accounting for 37% by 2040).

 

Fracking & plastics’ profiteer you’ve never heard of is the richest man in the UK

The CEO (and basically owner) of major petrochemical giant Ineos, Jim Ratcliffe, has made a fortune by #Fracking4Plastics and it has helped him become the richest man in the UK.

He is the main driving force behind the establishment of an already existing supply chain of fracked US gas that Ineos uses to produce plastics in Europe. The Ineos Dragon Ships crossing the Atlantic emblazoned with the slogan “Shale Gas for Europe” are leaving more than a toxic legacy in Europe — they are fueling the proliferation of fracking in Pennsylvania, a state that already struggeled with the impacts of oil and gas industry pollution. As a matter of course, Ineos tries to downplay the risks of fracking and plastics production; Jim Ratcliffe compared environmental accidents to getting a car tyre puncture.

No wonder. His fortune has been built on it.

Ineos is Europe’s largest ethylene producer, with ethylene being the most important chemical building block for plastics, solvents and fibres. The company has operated chemical plants for nearly two decades, but in that short time many of its facilities have been bedeviled by environmental problems. Its dozens of manufacturing facilities across Europe have been responsible for releases of toxic chemicals, leaks, fires and explosions that have endangered workers, communities and the environment. In 2016, Ineos’ Grangemouth complex was Scotland’s top emitter of carbon dioxide. And Ineos is currently facing prosecution over gas-flaring pollution breaches at the Grangemouth facility.

In May 2018, about 450,000 plastic pellets were found on a single beach in Scotland, not very far away from Ineos’ biggest facility in the UK. Endangered Scottish puffins have also been found with plastic pellets in their stomachs.  Experts believe that 15 percent of the puffins population that lives in the Firth of Forth (where the Grangemouth chemical complex of Ineos is located) could suffer from swallowed plastic pellets.

Plastic – mainly in the form of pellets or so-called nurdles – has already littered 73 percent of UK’s 279 shorelines. Several studies have shown that sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic. Plastic fibres have been found in tap and bottled water around the world; in 2017 plankton was caught on camera eating plastic and we now have scientific evidence that degrading plastic emits methane and represents a hitherto unrecognised source of climate change.

Personally, I say “enough is enough” It’s time to stand up and make a difference. It’s time to hold upstream virgin plastic producers for the pollution they’re causing responsible.

It’s time to unite, fight #Fracking4Plastics and companies like #IneosVthePeople.

It’s time to #BanFrackingNow to #BreakFreeFromPlastic!

 

We’re taking action for the #GasDownFrackDown 2018:

World Sailing Association urged to exclude Ineos sailing team

After pledging to “beat plastic pollution” earlier this year, World Sailing’s President comes under fire for allowing UK petrochemical giant INEOS to sponsor the UK sailing team.

INEOS’s sponsorship can be seen as nothing but blatant greenwashing, which directly undermines the ethics of World Sailing.

In its Code of Ethics, World Sailing makes a promise “to protect the environment on the occasion of any events…and to uphold generally accepted standards for environmental protection.” World Sailing further claims to support the objectives of increasing and developing awareness of sustainability issues amongst all sailing stakeholders.

In June this year, World Sailing joined the Clean Seas Campaign, partnering with the International Olympic Committee and UN Environment to “beat plastic pollution”.

The ongoing presence of INEOS Team UK in World Sailing’s headline event single-handedly shatters these endeavours, bringing World Sailing, into disrepute.

Key environmental organisations (including Greenpeace UK, Food & Water Watch, Oil Change International and BreakFreeFromPlastic) as well as grassroots groups have teamed up with academics and are asking World Sailing in an open letter written by Australian Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson to are asking World Sailing to disassociate itself from INEOS Team UK, and consider the implementation of an ethical and environmentally friendly sponsorship policy that truly reflects its goals.

INEOS Team UK led by Sir Ben Ainslie embark on the GC32 X in Toulon, France between 10th-14th October 2018 (www.gc32racingtour.com).

In the Letter addressed to World Sailing President Kim Andersen points out:

  • World Sailing Code of Ethics promises to protect the environment at any event!
  • World Sailing joined the Clean Seas Campaign to beat plastic pollution!
  • But now World Sailing allows INEOS to sponsor a sailing team led by Sir Ben Ainslie!
  • INEOS is #Fracking4Plastics on both sides of the Atlantic!
  • Fracking contributes significantly to climate change, pollutes the environment, threats public health and violates human rights!
  • INEOS wants to frack the UK to make more ocean polluting plastics!
  • Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our ocean!
  • World Sailing to disassociate itself from INEOS Team UK!

 

The letter will be delivered Wednesday, October 10th 2018, to World Sailing HQ, Paddington, London. This action is part of a wide range of events of groups from around the world who will stand together in a united fight against the gas, fracking and plastics/petrochemicals industry for the Global #GasDownFrackDown 2018

Actions are planned across North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Join us!

 

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A Global Movement Against Gas and Fracking Is Rising

A Global Movement Against Gas and Fracking Is Rising

This blog was originally posted on Food & Water Europe’s website. Food & Water Europe are a #breakfreefromplastic member and are working to make the connection between fracking and plastic pollution.

Along with our partners, Food & Water Europe is part of a global movement against fossil fuel extraction and FOR a sustainable future.

This October we are mobilizing and targeting those behind the boom of fossil gas and fracking infrastructure:

  • industry
  • governments
  • petrochemical giants that make plastics out of fossil fuels; and
  • banks that finance all of this.

We call it the The Global Gasdown Frackdown Day of Action.

We are showing our governments and the fossil fuel industry that our  communities and our atmosphere cannot handle another generation of fossil fuel addiction – JOIN US!

Why a Gasdown-Frackdown?

The fossil fuel industry is watching investments move away from oil and coal, and in response is pushing the myth of a fossil gas transition to hold onto their power. Fracking and gas projects are destroying our environment and our climate, violating our rights, polluting our water, grabbing our land. Time has come to stop the fracking and gas boom from locking us into another generation of fossil fuels.

What will we be doing?

The actions are decentralized, and there are no boundaries for creative peaceful events – photo stunts, marches, flash-mobs, sign-on letters, calling on local politicians, actions on bikes and kayaks, banner drops, recording videos and so on.
You don’t live near a fracking well, import terminal or pipeline? You probably do live near a bank that funds one! – We can help locate targets near you and share ideas and tools for the action itself.

When will this happen?

This OCTOBER! We are focusing on dates around October 13th 2018, but the date is flexible – you are more than welcome to take action as part of the Global Gasdown-Frackdown a few days before or after the 13th.

Who?

Anyone!

Learn more or register your action.

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Defend the Defenders: Ellen Sue Gerhart needs our support!

Defend the Defenders: Ellen Sue Gerhart needs our support!

Written by Ethan Buckner. Originally published in Earthworks website.

Late last Friday afternoon, four officers with the Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Department arrested grandmother, retired teacher, and advocate Ellen Sue Gerhart on her own property – likely in retaliation for her tireless work to protect her family’s land and Pennsylvania’s waterways from Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline. Ellen will be in court on Friday, August 3, facing a slew of charges that could lead to her being thrown in jail for six months with no trial. She is currently being held in solitary confinement and on hunger strike – even while incarcerated, she is taking every opportunity she has to draw attention back to the dangers of the Mariner East pipeline project.

Ellen Sue Gerhart is a retired special ed teacher and longtime Huntingdon County resident who has lived on her family’s land for 35 years in peace. Over three years ago, her tranquil retirement was abruptly disturbed with a notice that pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) planned to build a polluting, volatile Natural Gas Liquids Pipeline straight through her land in order to supply raw materials for plastics manufacturers in Europe.

The Gerharts never gave ETP permission to build a pipeline through their land, but ETP seized it anyway using eminent domain law. For the past three years, Ellen has been an outspoken, compassionate, and selfless leader in her advocacy against the pipeline. She helped host Camp White Pine on her land, a longstanding tree sit that effectively prevented pipeline construction on the family property for 741 days. She’s known at Camp White Pine as mama bear, and is known across Pennsylvania as a powerful and loving voice for justice.

In my visits to Camp White Pine over the past few years, I’ve had the immense privilege of witnessing Ellen in action – as a mother and grandmother, and a creative, witty, tireless, and grounded advocate. After meeting Ellen, it doesn’t take long to understand that she is a force of nature. It’s remarkable what she’s been able to accomplish under the most dire of circumstances: since deciding to oppose ETP, Ellen and her family have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and violence, but continue to persist in their work.

The Gerharts are currently using all legal avenues to oppose the project, including contesting the permits granted to ETP and the abuse of eminent domain. They have also levied a federal civil rights lawsuit against Energy Transfer Partners, private security contractor TigerSwan, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Huntingdon County Sheriff Department, and a creator of a fake grassroots facebook page called PA Progress over continuous harassment the family has faced since deciding to oppose the pipeline project.

As has been widely reported, the damage from the Mariner East pipeline project extends well beyond the boundaries of the Gerhart’s property. Since construction of Mariner East began, ETP has reported an astounding 111 spills along the pipeline route, with more occurring each week. Over two dozen residential water wells have been contaminated due to pollution related to the pipeline’s construction.

We are living in a precarious moment in American history. With democracy, human rights, and our environment under attack on all fronts at the federal level, it is more important than ever to stand beside those directly targeted for standing up for justice. Ellen Sue Gerhart needs our support. Let’s make sure she gets home.

We are working to raise $25,000 for the Gerharts’ legal fund and are grateful for any and all support – visit bit.ly/standwithellen to donate.

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