Flowing With Plastics Report
Youth from Mbarara supporting the call for companies to take action to #EndPlasticPollution
Click here to read and download the Flowing With Plastics report
End Plastic Pollution is calling upon corporations to commit to phase-out single-use plastics. Flowing with Plastics is a new report series that is focused on exposing false solutions proposed by the companies responsible for plastics waste found in our rivers. This first series focuses on River Rwizi in Western Uganda and The Coca-Cola Company, Uganda’s top plastic polluter in 2021.
• To help people understand plastics, its impacts to people, planet and how to avoid single-use plastics.
• To call for community level, national and regional reforms around plastic use and manufacturing. Hold plastic polluters accountable and promote zero-waste circular economy systems.
• To promote learning, art and skills sharing among the youth.
• To promote awareness through local media for communities along River Rwizi.These activities were conducted involving youth in community based activities including collective cleanups on River Rwizi and protests in Mbarara City. The cleanup on River Rwizi is the most risky cleanup we have ever conducted because of the heavy running water. Also, rising water levels the day before the cleanups posed a serious threat for many to drown. Nevertheless, we braved up and did a massive cleanup that was seen by over 56,100 people on Twitter, gaining over 188,162 impressions. We conducted a brand audit on all the waste collected from River Rwizi, 537 items were audited exposing 56 brands belonging to 36 companies.
Click here to read and download the Flowing With Plastics reportOur #SaveRiverRwizi, protest helped spread the message to the streets of Mbarara, where even youth skaters participated in several rounds around Mbarara City and joined a group of environmental activists, local waste pickers and students. We also launched a special program for youth waste pickers within Mbarara City and hosted trainings for youth about Circular Economy practices and collective efforts to manage plastic so that it does not end up in the river. Through the #SaveRiverRwizi we engaged with 500 youths including 60 youth waste pickers, students from schools, universities, local leaders from Mbarara City’s Kateete Division, Buremba Village, and Mbarara City Corporate Business community. At this point of reach by plastic waste, greater action and accountability by polluting companies is needed. Initiatives like Brand Audits are helping to expose these plastic polluting companies and hold them accountable. Brand Audits are an action to document the names of companies that produced the plastic waste polluting our communities. This generates undeniable data that clearly informs the process of holding polluters accountable for the plastic and climate crises. The Brand Audit on River Rwizi, 537 items were audited, involving 56 brands from 36 companies. One hundred eighty nine items belong to brands part of The Coca-Cola product family making 35.0% of the total collection. The Uganda Brand Audit was conducted in Jinja Eastern Uganda at Masese Landing Site in partnership with Break Free From Plastic. 469 items were audited, belonging to 47 brands from 32 parent companies. The Coca-Cola Company is leading a pack of other top polluting multinationals including Unilever, The Campbell’s Soup Company and Upfield. To make matters worse, local / regional manufacturers are also making huge amounts of single-use plastics with the excuse that they are making consumer goods affordable and accessible for the poor. These include Yaket and Hema Beverages who are making cheap bottled water for as low as UGX 500. Also among the top ten plastic polluters are companies Mukwano Industries and BIDCO Africa, which produce products almost found in every home in Uganda. The global Break Free From Plastic brand audit report also revealed that The Coca-Cola Company continues to be the world’s largest plastic polluter for the 4th year in a row. In 2021, The Coca-Cola Company was recorded to have produced more plastic products than the next top two polluters, PepsiCo and Nestle, combined. It is no surprise that the company holds this position, The Coca-Cola Company is hugely investing in its expansion to make more single-use plastics to package its ever growing family of soft drinks brands. The Coca-Cola Company now makes over 4,000,000 plastic bottles per week - that is 200,000,000 plastic bottles per year in Uganda - but continues to promote false solutions under its “World Without Waste” initiative. To end single-use plastic pollution we cannot rely on voluntary commitments and false solutions like The Coca-Cola Company’s “World without Waste” initiative. Among the commitments made by The Coca-Cola Company is to collect every bottle for every one sold, however this has failed. Young people don’t deserve to inherit the plastic and climate crises they did not create. We cannot wait until every river is flowing with plastics. This is why this part one of Flowing with Plastics highlights the urgent need for eliminating single-use plastics by corporations like The Coca-Cola Company. In order to end plastic pollution, The Coca-Cola Company and other top polluters need to REVEAL their total plastic footprint, REDUCE the amount of plastic they produce, and REDESIGN their packaging for refill and reuse. Our future is not disposable. What is damaged must be restored and our environment must be protected for future generations to inherit.
A cleanup on River Rwizi, 537 items were collected.
A protest in Mbarara Town to raise awareness about plastics polluting River Rwizi.Ainebyona Martin, a youth from Mbarara was born in Buremba Village. His entire village survives on the water from the river for domestic purposes and for their cattle to drink. "The river was not like this while I sometime back, we used to come here with my friends to swim and fetch water for cooking food at home. My grandfather's cows and goats would come here to drink water but now it dangerous for them to drink this water". Says Ainebyoba while participating in the cleanup.
Waste Trade Bites: Vietnam Waste Woes
In our last Waste Trade Bites, we highlighted how OECD countries* continue to send plastic waste to non-OECD countries. This means that richer countries are sending their waste to poorer countries. This month, we look into the waste trade between the second richest region in the world (EU-UK) and one recipient country – Vietnam. While plastic pollution is a global environmental problem, Vietnam is among the most severely affected. A 2015 study listed Vietnam as the fourth highest country in the world for mismanaged plastic waste. Estimates indicated that the country generates 1,800 thousand tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which only 27% is recycled. The remaining plastic often ends up in the sea, rivers, and even the rice fields along the Mekong delta, where it is burned or buried because there are no viable recycling or disposal solutions. Vietnam’s labour is largely engaged in agriculture, with rice paddy and fruits as the major sources of income, irrigated by the braiding channels of the Mekong river. Such an economy produces huge quantities of waste - the plastic containers for pesticides and fertilisers, as well as the toxic run-off from fields - both of which end up polluting the waterways. As Vietnam struggles to find solutions to their own plastic waste, through hazardous waste collection centres and bans on burning, the United Kingdom and countries across the European Union continue to ship their contaminated plastic waste to Vietnam’s shores. In the past five years, Vietnam received a whopping 634.8 thousand tonnes of plastic waste from the European Union, and a further 84.3 thousand tonnes from the United Kingdom. These were just officially reported figures. Despite the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments which stipulated tighter regulation of the plastic waste trade, agents continue to exploit enforcement loopholes. In November 2021, 10 NGOs including Basel Action Network (BAN) and Greenpeace received intel about a COSCO Pride ship that was to be loaded with 37 containers of plastic waste from Germany. Originally intended for Turkey (thwarted as the importer lost his license after a crackdown on mixed and dirty plastic imports by the Turkish government), this shipment was then redirected to Haiphong, Vietnam. The NGOs sent a warning letter to waste shipment authorities and representatives of COSCO Shipping at Piraeus, a Greek port, and were able to stop the shipment in transit. But by then, 16 COSCO containers of German plastic waste, similarly rejected by Turkey, had already been sent to Haiphong. There were at least 80 more such containers believed to be stuck in Turkey involving the COSCO, Sealand, MSC, Maersk, and Hamburg Sud shipping lines. This Germany-Turkey-Greece-Vietnam route only included plastic waste exports from one EU country. What is happening elsewhere? Concerted efforts by civil society organisations in the Asia-Pacific and the West have been effective in exposing illegality in the plastic waste trade and resulting pollution in destination countries. The roles of enforcement authorities and the private sector, such as shipping companies, are equally crucial in our fight against plastic pollution. * The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organisation comprising 38 member countries, mostly who are high-income economies with high Human Development Index.
Against Toxic Plastics in Mexico
In its May ecology supplement, the Mexican newspaper La Jornada published their journalistic piece “Against Toxic Plastics: The Circular Economy", which serves as a comprehensive document on the plastic pollution crisis in Mexico and its perspective in the global context. Led by experts, scientists, and activists in Mexico and from different parts of the world, this set of articles deals in detail with various aspects of plastic pollution, such as international trade and incineration of plastic waste, contamination by toxic substances present in plastics, and local efforts to implement solutions. Likewise, it analyzes Waste Management and Circular Economy laws in Mexico, questioning the idea of a "circular economy" that does not abandon the goal of perpetual economic growth; and it further highlights "zero waste" as a strategy that goes hand-in-hand with concepts such as redesign, community participation, prohibition of polluting products or single-use products, and rejection of predatory technologies. The publication features interviews with various members of Break Free From Plastic in Mexico and members of the movement's global team. “Policies are lacking in Mexico to reduce chemical and plastic pollution,” says Marisa Jacott from the organization Fronteras Comunes, while commenting on how local policies do not prioritize the health of people and the environment over the interests of corporations despite the fact that her country is a signatory to international conventions that seek to prevent pollution. Specifically, one of the articles states that the recent amendments to the Waste Management law (LGPGIR) and the proposal for the General Law on Circular Economy, which was prepared and approved by the Senate in 2021, and which is currently under review in the Chamber of Deputies, " are nothing more than a simulation to continue protecting industrial and market interests against environmental health, and continue promoting the burning of waste instead of preventing its generation.” In this regard, Ornella Garelli of Greenpeace explains that various civil society organizations, including those that are part of the Mexico Without Plastic Alliance (AMSP), are currently working to reform the waste law as a way to deal with the plastic pollution. In another section, Larisa de Orbe from Acción Ecológica reveals the inconsistencies in local policy due to the Senate having signed with plastic producers a National Agreement for the New Plastics Economy, which includes false solutions like so-called “waste-to-energy” schemes that burn plastic under the banner of “recycling” or “recovery” and produce toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the process. According to Marisa Jacott with Fronteras Comunes, the conclusion is clear: "Mexico is facing a paradigmatic challenge within an international context in which it either changes its public policy to defend and care for health and the environment in the face of economic interests, or decides to continue down the capitalist path, which in no way satisfies the needs of the present without compromising social justice, human health and the destiny of future generations.” This special supplement of La Jornada also demonstrates the important work that has been done in Mexico through the publication of national brand audit reports, which are used to identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution in the country, and invites the local community to become part of the solution by joining the Break Free From Plastic movement. ESPAÑOL: El diario mexicano la Jornada publicó, en su suplemento de ecología de mayo, un completo documento sobre la crisis de contaminación por plásticos en México y su contexto en el entorno global, titulado “Contra los plásticos tóxicos: la economía circular”. De la mano de expertos, científicos y activistas, tanto mexicanos como de diferentes partes del mundo, este conjunto de artículos aborda de manera detallada varias aristas de la contaminación por plásticos como el comercio internacional e incineración de residuos plásticos, la contaminación por tóxicos presentes en los plásticos, y los esfuerzos locales para liberarse de esta forma de contaminación. Así mismo, hace un análisis sobre las leyes de gestión de residuos y de economía circular, donde se cuestiona la idea de una “economía circular” que no abandona la meta de crecimiento económico perpetuo; y destaca “basura cero” como una estrategia que va de la mano de conceptos como rediseño, participación comunitaria, prohibición de productos contaminantes o de un solo uso, rechazo a tecnologías contaminantes, centralizadoras y depredadoras de los recursos. La publicación cuenta con entrevistas a varios miembros de BFFP México e integrantes del equipo global del movimiento. “Faltan políticas en México para abatir la contaminación química y plástica” indica Marisa Jacott de la organización Fronteras Comunes, mientras comenta cómo a pesar de que su país es signatario de convenios internacionales que buscan prevenir la contaminación, las políticas locales no priorizan la salud de las personas y del medio ambiente sobre los intereses de las corporaciones. Puntualmente, uno de los artículos afirma que las modificaciones recientes a la ley de residuos (LGPGIR) y la propuesta de Ley General de Economía Circular elaborada y aprobada por el Senado el año 2021, que actualmente se encuentra en revisión en la Cámara de Diputados “no son más que una simulación para continuar protegiendo los intereses industriales y del mercado frente a la salud ambiental, y seguir promoviendo la quema de residuos en lugar de prevenir su generación”. Al respecto, Ornella Garelli de Greenpeace explica que diversas organizaciones de la sociedad civil, incluidas aquellas que forman parte de la Alianza México sin Plástico (AMSP), están trabajando para lograr una reforma a la ley de residuos, como forma de hacer frente a la contaminación por plásticos. En otra sección, Larisa de Orbe, de Acción Ecológica, revela las inconsistencias en la política local en donde el senado firma con los productores de plástico un Acuerdo Nacional para la Nueva Economía del Plástico en donde se incluye falsas soluciones como la llamada ”valorización energética”, esquema en el que se quema plásticos bajo el estandarte de “reciclaje” o “recuperación” y en el proceso genera polución tóxica y emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero. La conclusión de Marisa Jacott de Fronteras Comunes es clara: “México se encuentra ante un reto paradigmático dentro de un contexto internacional en el que, o cambia su política pública para defender y cuidar la salud y el ambiente frente a los intereses económicos o decide continuar por el camino capitalista, que para nada satisface las necesidades del presente sin que se comprometa la justicia social, la salud humana y el destino de las futuras generaciones” En el suplemento de La Jornada demuestra el importante trabajo que se ha hecho en México mediante la publicación de sus informes nacionales de auditoría de marca, que son usados para identificar las empresas responsables de la contaminación por plásticos en el país, e invitan a la comunidad a unirse al movimiento Break Free From Plastic en México.
Over 90 global youth leaders band together in Break Free From Plastic Youth Summit
The Break Free From Plastic Youth Summit brought youth organizations together for a global virtual gathering on April 8-10, 2022. This served as a platform for youth to discuss revolutionary projects, to understand the intersectional issues on plastic, and to band together to map out their generation’s action plan to shift the world away from single-use plastic.
The first day of the summit focused on laying out the links of plastic to climate and environmental justice. Movement experts helped participants gain an understanding of all the ways plastic affects communities big and small, and how each person living on this planet is connected to this crisis. The workshop sessions gave a chance for youth leaders to compare the ways in which plastic affects their communities, countries, and themselves.
Day two of the summit gave participants a chance to hear from young leaders like themselves, who have led successful campaigns in their own communities that eventually scaled up into national projects with other like-minded youth organizations. Participants were given a chance to discuss the framework of these projects and what they thought would be important to prioritize in their own local context.
The last day of the summit marked the launch of A Mighty Ocean, the documentary created by the BFFP Youth Ambassadors of 2021. Six youth ambassadors from Indonesia, India, Ghana, and Brazil gave participants a glimpse of how they personally experience climate change, and showed their stance as youth leaders who are demanding change from plastics producers and policymakers.
This session was followed by the youth manifesto co-design session, where participants drafted the action plans they are committing to as a global BFFP Youth Movement.
This group of young leaders are largely concentrated in the Global South, with the majority of participants from Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America. They are a portion of the largest generation of young people that are most impacted by climate change, and are the ones left to clean up the plastics crisis from decades of neglect of generations before them. This is the first gathering from BFFP that aimed to unite young leaders that are at the forefront of the plastics and climate crisis, to support the plans that they want to see within and outside the movement, and give the chance to collaborate with others.
Nina Azzahra, Co-captain of River Warrior Indonesia, said: “Before the 1980s, people bought products in tin, glass, paper, and cardboard. Very little products were packaged in plastic, and they were not created for single-use. So people did not produce much trash then. My mom told me that when she studied in school, her canteen would only sell fresh snacks and drinks, made by the sellers themselves.There is no styrofoam, straws, or plastic bottles. They use reusables. So we need to go back to those times where there are no sachets being sold in schools. Sachets are now littering our rivers, our seas, our beaches, and our roads, because industries produce too many sachets. It is not recyclable, especially the multi-layer ones.”
Alex Ben Ghanem, Data Analyst at United We Dream, said: “I started learning more and more that there was another aspect to this. I think that what truly drove my passion was the colonial aspect. That not only, was the world going to shit, as some would say. But there are clear perpetrators, and they don’t look like me. They don’t look like many people in this room. They are usually white folks. They are the colonizers that established the world order that we live in today, and forced us to consume plastic goods, forced us to consume fossil fuels, forced us to conform to a system that if we don’t, we’re either kicked out of the system or forcibly annexed in the system.”
Nikhilesh Paliath, Co-Founder & Senior Mentor, Green Army International, said: “When students started to go and campaign, they had so much energy. People listened to the students and that’s when cities and civil society organizations like Thanal, realized that students have much bigger power in communicating with people. People don’t say no to students. Even when students argue with residents about waste management practice, they listen to them. So we understood that students had much more communicating power, and that’s when students started getting more involved with our campaign.”
Betty Osei Bonsu, Project Coordinator at Green Africa Youth Organization, said in the global youth documentary: “Only a few people cannot make it. We need more people to come onboard. Little drops of water, they say, makes a mighty ocean. We need more youth, we need more voices, to actually campaign for the better environment we want to see.”
The Break Free From Plastic Youth Summit marks the beginning of the collaboration of young people in a wider range of countries who are representing their generation’s stance and action plans on the plastic pollution crisis. Their drafting of the youth manifesto serves as a guide for strategized action within and outside the BFFP Movement.
Event Recordings <note to web admin: please embed the links to the text>
ReUni, CirculaCT, UFSC Plastic-free, Green Africa Youth Organization, Bring Back Green Foundation Kerala, Environmental Green Society Malang, Network of Woman Action to Save the Earth (NOWASTE), River Warrior, Zero Waste Youth Negros Oriental, Zero Waste Youth Romblon, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, Pour Une Tunisie Propre et Verte
Member in the Spotlight: FoE Croatia
My name is Ana Marija Mileusnić (or just Ana) and I work in an organisation called Zelena akcija / FoE Croatia based in Zagreb, Croatia. Zelena akcija was founded in 1990 and it is the oldest environmental organisation in Croatia. The organisation has been a member of #breakfreefromplastic (BFFP) movement since 2017 and ever since then we have organised numerous actions, events and led successful campaigns aimed at improving the national legislative framework, as well as raising public awareness on the topic of plastic pollution while also collaborating with municipalities, clubs, festivals and events on how to cut single-use plastic on the community level. All of this work has been supported by the BFFP movement which has provided us with useful information, knowledge and resources necessary to lead successful campaigns in fighting against plastic pollution. The important role of Zelena akcija - as one of the most influential environmental organisations on the national level - is to strengthen the anti-plastic movement by gathering environmental organisations (+ one marine institute) from all over Croatia in a non-formal anti-plastic platform. Together we share narrative and organise joint actions and campaigns to tackle plastic pollution. We find it very valuable and enriching, especially because all of the organisations that are part of the platform are using different approaches and covering different thematic areas on different scales - from very small local actions to national wide campaigns. On the international level, apart from BFFP, we are also a member of Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) and our core values are environmental, economic, social and gender justice and intersectionality. As a member of FOEI and the School of Sustainability project, we focus on exploring power and privilege in the context of advocating for system change. The work continued through the Young Friends of the Earth Europe network where the joint effort was put into educating ourselves as member groups on applying an intersectional approach in our ways of working - starting on the way we are structured as organisations and networks, to building campaigns and collaboration between movements. We started to explore root causes of injustices which brought us closer in realising interconnectedness and understanding the importance of collaboration and solidarity in between different movements that are sharing our core values and advocating for systemic change. Regarding the topic of plastic, our main focus on intersectionality has been through the Environmenstrual campaign where we noticed the intersection of two big global issues - gender inequality, which leads to period poverty and plastic pollution. Since we are aware of the importance of collaborating across movements, we were closely following the work of the human rights and civic participation association,Pariter. Their work over the last few years was focused on women’s rights, in particular abortion rights and period poverty. They were the first association that conducted the research on the topic of period poverty on the national level in Croatia. Apart from generally exploring the topic, their research showed that 30% of menstruators have heard about reusable period products, but couldn’t afford them. Association Pariter used this research for advocacy work on tax reduction on period products, as well as raising awareness on the problem of lack of accessibility of period products and inadequate infrastructure. The problem of period poverty is closely related to the massive use of single-use plastic menstrual items: these products most often contain toxic chemicals and therefore can lead to health problems of menstruators. They generate toxic waste that ends up in landfills or is burnt, which can contribute to further health and economic problems of both menstruators and non-menstruators. We saw how these problems are interconnected, so we approached association Pariter to ask them to collaborate. Ever since then, we have been learning from each other and using our spheres of influence to reach different target groups. In 2021, we began our first activities on the topic of plastic pollution and period products and organized an online panel discussion on the topic of period poverty and environmental pollution and marked the International Women’s Day. This was followed by the public activist performance as part of the Period Poverty Week in May 2021 where we called on decision makers to recognize the problem of period poverty as a systemic issue and ensure the safe and reusable products are available and accessible to all the menstruators. The action drew a lot of media attention so we were guests at numerous radio stations and held interviews where we had the opportunity to spread awareness and have people on board with moving towards systemic solutions. After Period Poverty Week 2021, we again put the topic in spotlight as part of Environmenstrual Week Campaign in October 2021 where we organized another panel discussion in which we thematized the period taboo and myths around reusable menstrual items, as well as presence of toxic chemicals in these products, connecting it to right to information and REACH directive. When it comes to challenges, we were the first environmental organisation in Croatia to make a public stand on the issue of period poverty and its connection to plastic pollution. Too many environmental NGO’s are holding back on confronting the issue due to the issue being seen as an individual problem or choice and therefore it is sensitive to communicate to the public. Using the intersectional lenses in observing this problem and being aware of our own power and privilege as the oldest and the most influential environmental organisation in Croatia, we decided to step out on the issue and by doing that empower others to join the fight. As a campaigner, I was very happy to receive support coming from our feminist sisters who also helped to stand strong against the backlash coming from radical feminist groups because of our usage of gender inclusive language, being aware that while most menstruators are women, they are not the only one who menstruate. All this work was strongly supported by the Menstrual Task Force within BFFP. The Menstrual Task force is gathering campaigners from all over Europe where we share knowledge, resources, experience and inspiration on how to do public advocacy work on the topic. We hope this work will continue and that Zelena akcija will contribute to the aims of the task force through our work to put efforts into advocating for the better policy framework which will be supporting and empowering menstruators so they can feel educated, confident and free to make their own choices about their bodies, their purchasing power, and their periods.
#breakfreefromplastic welcomes grant from the Dutch Postcode Lottery
Manila – The Dutch Postcode Lottery has awarded a grant of €500,000 to #breakfreefromplastic (BFFP) in support of a project to accelerate the change towards a future free from plastic pollution. The grant, which was made possible through the sponsorship of Greenpeace Netherlands, is expected to boost #breakfreefromplastic’s capacity to coordinate and support globally impactful campaigns and initiatives including the annual global Brand Audits, the Zero Waste Academy, and the work of BFFP’s Youth Ambassadors. The grant will also help increase the movement’s operational efficiency, and amplify its impact to expose the drivers of plastic pollution globally while mainstreaming solutions and strengthening the movement. “Our movement welcomes this generous donation from the Dutch Postcode Lottery that was made possible by its participants. It will give our work a significant boost, especially at this crucial time when the world needs to redouble its efforts to address the twin emergencies of climate change and plastic pollution,” said Von Hernandez, BFFP Global Coordinator. Plastic pollution is inherently linked to the key challenges undermining our planet and its people. Climate change is expected to worsen through continuing plastic production and pollution, given that 99% of plastics produced today are derived from fossil fuels. Plastics also intrude on human rights through each step of the plastics lifecycle - extraction (oil and gas), production (of plastic pellets and plastic products), trade and plastic use, waste/disposal, and marine pollution. Vulnerable populations - primarily in the global south - bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of plastic pollution, as evidenced by the continuing cases of plastic waste dumping by industrialized countries on poorer countries, often in the guise of recycling. Plastics also present profound impacts on human health, given the widespread and almost unregulated use of persistent and toxic chemicals in plastics production and use, with associated pollution impacts on air, water, and land. BFFP works to create systemic change to break this cycle of pollution, and promote solutions, applying pressure on corporations and governments to abandon polluting practices and adopt progressive policies to eliminate single-use and throw away plastic. More specifically, BFFP challenges responsible parties and stakeholders to focus on reduction strategies, including product redesign and alternative delivery systems (e.g., reuse and refill models). The Dutch Postcode Lottery has been raising funds since 1989 to support organizations and charities working towards a greener and fairer world. It provides grants and core support to organizations worldwide working in the areas of poverty alleviation, human rights, nature conservation, the environment as well as social cohesion in the Netherlands. The donations are made possible through the contributions of more than 3 million participants of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Since 1989, the lottery has donated more than 7.1 billion euros to hundreds of charities and social initiatives worldwide.
Waste Trade Bites: Japan’s waste trade charade
Last week, Basel Action Network (BAN) released the March 2022 edition of their excellent Plastic Waste Trade Watch newsletter which shows how OECD countries continue to send plastic waste to non-OECD countries. Australia exported 108,603 tonnes of plastic waste in 2021, while thousands of tonnes of plastic waste were shipped from the UK, US, and Germany to non-OECD countries in January 2022. While western developed countries are infamous as plastic waste exporters, February 2022’s edition of the newsletter caught our eye. In 2021, Japan exported more plastic waste compared to the UK, US, and Canada – 623,200 tonnes in total, with 560,730 tonnes (90%) shipped to non-OECD countries! In December 2021 alone, Japan exported:
• 115 TEU shipping containers PER DAY to Malaysia (18.3 million kg/month).• • 109 TEU shipping containers PER DAY to Vietnam (17.4 million kg/month). • 30 TEU shipping containers PER DAY to Thailand (4.7 million kg/month). *Note: TEU = twenty-foot equivalent unitA 2015 study examined countries’ annual tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste and the total waste which ended up in the ocean. The top 8 countries globally with mismanaged plastic waste were China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, and Malaysia. Why is Japan sending plastic waste to countries that cannot manage plastic waste? These countries are ill-equipped in terms of infrastructure and technology to handle their domestic plastic waste – imported waste adds to this burden. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)’s report stated that Malaysia produces about 2.4 million tonnes of plastic waste per year and imports on average 835,000 tonnes per year (five-year average over 2016-20). Meanwhile, the annual capacity of all recycling facilities is currently just 515,009 tonnes. This means there is a 2.7 million tonne discrepancy between what is produced and imported versus what is responsibly managed. Countries with large shipments of imported plastic waste have some of the highest mismanagement rates globally. Plastic waste mismanagement leads to leakages into the environment via rivers, wind, waves, and tides, with severe implications for biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments* aimed to limit exports of plastic waste from OECD to non-OECD countries, yet Japan’s exports have not abated. Worse still, between January to April 2021, Japan’s exports to non-OECD countries increased by 39.2%. Flouting legal and ethical norms, they continue to ship their waste to poorer countries. * Read more about Basel plastic waste trade violations at BAN’s Plastic Waste Transparency Project.
#breakfreefromplastic Movement Responds to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Report on Addressing Flexible Packaging
Manila - Today, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) released a new report entitled “Flexible packaging: The urgent actions needed to deliver circular economy solutions”, which focuses on flexible packaging as the fastest-growing plastic packaging category. This form of packaging is almost uniformly single-use, with high rates of leakage into the environment and very low recycling rates. Sachets—small sealed packages used to distribute goods in small quantities, which are often made of multilayered single-use plastics–are a particularly critical environmental problem. In fact, the 2020 #breakfreefromplastic Brand Audit identified sachets as the most prevalent plastic waste item found in clean-ups and waste audits globally. According to EMF, fast-moving consumer goods companies are responsible for distributing more than 146 billion plastic sachets per year in Southeast Asia alone to deliver personal care and home care products. Although sachet pollution is particularly bad in Asia due to corporations’ packaging standards in the region, they are also discarded in the form of to-go condiment packages throughout the global north and in other forms around the world. Many corporations that sell sachets have joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastic Economy Global Commitment to have 100% of their packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. However, Nestlé, Unilever, and other corporations that have regularly figured as top polluters in #breakfreefromplastic’s Brand Audits, continue to rely on this highly-polluting mode of product delivery. Due to the use of multiple materials and toxic additives, plastic sachets and pouches are inherently difficult and expensive to safely manage and recycle—costs which local governments and taxpayers often end up paying for. In some cases, corporations using the guise of plastic offsetting, tap waste pickers to collect and transport sachets to cement kilns where they are ultimately incinerated—a practice the EMF report describes as “not desirable” in a circular economy. Among the 21 specific and urgent actions proposed in the report, the EMF recognizes the need for the direct elimination of unnecessary flexible packaging, and the need to innovate reuse and refill systems to replace the need for sachets, while exposing the inherent limitations of "chemical recycling" that the industry uses to justify the continued production of single-use plastic. Member organizations in the #breakfreefromplastic movement have been working to address the pollution caused by flexible packaging and demand real solutions and accountability: Christie Keith, International Coordinator of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) , said: "It is clear from this report that so-called 'chemical recycling' is more trouble than it's worth– namely the 50-70% material loss, high costs, and the fact that most operations surveyed are either commercially defunct or actually just burning plastic, a major climate threat. Big brands and investors should take note: investing in chemical 'recycling' is throwing money away that could be spent on real solutions like reuse systems. Chemical 'recycling' must be revealed for what it really is, an industry fig leaf for more single-use plastic production." Lakshmi Narayanan, Co-founder of SWaCH Cooperative Pune, a waste picker cooperative said: “Addressing challenges to handling unnecessary flexible packaging will benefit the informal waste sector, as these materials have lower value compared to other packaging materials. While improved collection and recycling infrastructure are critical, governments and corporations should put emphasis on the role of the informal sector, instead of relying on centralized or token investments, to ensure that they're properly incentivized and not merely internalizing the cost of handling low-value flexible materials.” Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner from Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines, said: “This latest report underscores how big brands have unleashed a scourge of plastic pollution on communities and their environment, particularly in the form of sachets which are impacting the lives of the most vulnerable. We need big brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever to end their addiction to plastic packaging and match the gravity of this crisis with concrete solutions. We call on Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever to focus their efforts on reduction and to switch their business models to refill and reuse systems instead of investing in false solutions like chemical recycling, co-processing or bogus recycling schemes which will not solve this crisis.” Miko Aliño, Project Coordinator for Corporate Accountability from #breakfreefromplastic, said: “We welcome the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s call for the elimination of multilayered flexible packaging and agree with its urgency. Every day, we witness how sachets are destroying natural resources and affecting the livelihood of communities across Asia. These communities are tired of hearing empty promises from corporations while seeing no real progress. So it is imperative that these companies take meaningful and urgent action to quit sachets.” Press Contacts: · Asia & the Pacific: Jed Alegado, Jed@breakfreefromplastic.org Eah Antonio, Eah@breakfreefromplastic.org · Europe: Bethany Spendlove Keeley Bethany@breakfreefromplastic.org · United States: Brett Nadrich, Brett@breakfreefromplastic.org · Global Press Contact: Caro Gonzalez, Caro@breakfreefromplastic.org