Starbucks CEO Invited To See Where Strawless Lid Will Actually End Up


Recyclers and Zero-Waste Advocates Debunk Starbucks’ Claims that New Lid Will Be “Recycled”

The #breakfreefromplastic global movement invites Starbucks CEO Kevin Thompson to see where Starbucks trash ends up: much of it across South East Asia. In an effort to quell growing concerns about Starbucks wasteful packaging, the company just announced to much fanfare that it would phase out plastic straws and replace them with “recyclable” plastic lids. In fact, the same type of plastic Starbucks claims is “recyclable” is being sent to landfills across the nation, or shipped to countries like Malaysia or Vietnam-- where it becomes pollution. “Starbucks’ claims about the ability of #5 plastics to be ‘widely recycled’ are bankrupt,” says Stiv Wilson, Director of Campaigns at the Story of Stuff Project. “This incredible attention to a single product isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t quite a good thing either if it doesn’t lead to broader, systemic change in how the world makes, uses, and disposes of the most ubiquitous material in commerce today—plastic,” he added. As companies like Starbucks are increasingly under fire for their contribution to the plastic pollution crisis, they have primarily relied on recycling as the solution to their wasteful packaging, despite its many flaws. As a result, the US has been sending even larger quantities of “recyclable” plastic to China, causing the tremendous environmental damage that led the country to close its doors. Now the US has started sending its plastic waste to other countries in Asia, sparking these countries to enact similar bans and restrictions. “Recycling alone is not going to solve the plastic pollution crisis,” said Greenpeace Plastics Campaigner Kate Melges. “In fact, relying on a recycling system that is failing in the U.S. and facing bans overseas will make the problem worse. To date, only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. It is time for companies to move beyond flashy PR moves and start significantly reducing their production of plastic and investing in reuse alternatives.” In many of the countries Starbuck has stores, there is little to no recycling infrastructure. Not only do Starbucks’ branded straws, hot cups, cold cups, and lids show up in beach cleanups, according to the global trash app, Litterati, Starbucks branded products are easily in the top three of brands identified globally if not number one. With that in mind, the #breakfreefromplastic movement invites Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to visit the communities in Southeast Asia most impacted by the plastic waste created by companies headquartered in the global north. “The type of plastic pollution we’re seeing in Southeast Asia are produced by global corporations headquartered in North America and Europe,” said Break Free From Plastic’s Global Coordinator Von Hernandez. “While these are the countries that are being blamed for plastic pollution, the ones that are really pushing production are companies located in the global north. They need to bear the responsibility for this waste.” The deceptiveness of industry’s recycling pledges has hampered progress towards real solutions to the plastic crisis. Monica Wilson, Research and Policy Director at GAIA, states, “We call on Starbucks to be responsible for its own products and packaging and to stop pretending the plastic flooding the market is actually getting recycled.” For press inquiries, please contact: Shilpi Chhotray, #breakfreefromplastic, shilpi@breakfreefromplastic.org, 703-400-9986 Claire Arkin, GAIA, claire@no-burn.org, 510-883-9490 ext. 111 Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace, perry.wheeler@greenpeace.org, 301-675-8766


Open Letter to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson

[googlepdf url="https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Open-letter-to-Sbucks-CEO-3.pdf" width="100%" height="850"]

Go To Press Release



Hazardous chemicals and plastic packaging: what are the concerns?

This blog was originally published by ChemTrust on their website and was written by Anna Watson on July 19, 2018 As CHEM Trust reported in May a collaboration of academic scientists and NGOs have been working together to identify the hazardous chemicals associated with plastic packaging. We reported that over 4000 chemicals have been identified that are potentially present in plastic packaging or used during its manufacture. At least 148 of these chemicals have been identified as hazardous to human health and/or the environment. This week the “Chemicals associated with Plastic Packaging database” (CPPdb) has been published.This database lists the chemicals that are likely to be used in the manufacturing of plastic packaging and could be present in final packaging articles like a shampoo bottle, a wrapping of a take-away sandwich or a plastic wrapping for a toy. The database also includes some non-intentionally added substances (NIAS). NIAS are chemicals present in the final plastic packaging as impurities or contaminants, or due to side reactions or degradation of the chemicals used to make the packaging. The scientists faced considerable barriers when building the database, due to a lack of information concerning the use of chemicals in plastics manufacturing and the chemicals’ presence in final products, often caused by information not being publically accessible through standard search methods or not being accessible at all. In other instances, relevant information is simply not available, for example for many of the NIAS which have often not been fully identified. Among the chemicals in the database 148 were ranked as the most hazardous to human health and/or the environment, based on EU harmonized toxicity classifications and other existing lists. 35 of the chemicals are regarded as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), chemicals potentially causing adverse impacts on the hormone system. These included chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and a number of phthalates, whose use within Europe has been restricted in certain products due to their harmful properties. The 148 most hazardous chemicals will probably not be a complete list, as harmonised toxicity classification data was not available for many of the other chemicals associated with plastic packaging.

Chemical uses

The hazardous chemicals identified are not only used as the main ingredient (monomer) to produce the plastic packaging but are also used for a range of functions from biocides to prevent moulds, flame retardants to increase fire resistance, plasticizers to increase flexibility, dyes, adhesives and others. The full list of the chemicals identified is available here in the pre-publication paper.

Some chemical groups of concern

Hazardous Metals: A group of additives to plastics that consists of substances containing hazardous metals. Four of the heavy metals, cadmium, chromium(VI), lead and mercury, are considered to be highly hazardous to human health because they are carcinogens, can cause permanent changes to the genetic make-up of cells or they can have adverse effects on fertility and sexual function. Bisphenols: Three Bisphenols are highlighted, BPA, bisphenol S and bisphenol F; these are used in the manufacture of clear polycarbonate plastic, as additives in rigid plastics and in the manufacture of other plastic-related materials, including the lining inside food and drink cans. These bisphenols are known EDCs, and a recent CHEM Trust report has highlighted the case for the use of the bisphenol group of chemicals to be restricted by regulators. Phthalates: The study identifies 14 different hazardous phthalates, a group of chemicals that are used as plasticizers in plastics. The EU is currently finalising a restriction on the use of four phthalates that are used as plasticizers in plastic packaging, due to health worries associated with these chemicals. However, the proposed restriction does not prevent these chemicals being used as food contact materials.  CHEM Trust and the European Environmental Bureau has called for this to change. Phthalates are associated with a range of health effects on people including reproductive disruption and metabolic diseases such as obesity . PFAS:  Two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are identified in the study. The stability of these chemicals, which makes their use attractive in plastic packaging, however, means they are extremely persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the food chain. One of the chemicals identified in the database, PFOA is listed on the European Chemical Agency’s list of substances of very high concern, due to its reproductive toxicity and environmental persistence. CHEM Trust has proposed that these chemicals are part of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU), which is coordinating and advancing the measurement of the presence of chemicals in the European population.


Dr Jane Muncke, The Managing Director, of the Food Packaging Forum said:
“During this project we have been able to identify 148 hazardous chemicals that are associated with plastic packaging. However, there is a substantial shortage of, and huge difficulty in getting hold of, information on how specific chemicals are used in which application, in what quantities and how much ends up in the finished plastic packaging. Alongside this, even for chemicals for which hazards have been identified, there is a lack of harmonized toxicology information. Both of these issues need to be addressed urgently for the purpose of identifying and removing hazardous chemicals from plastic packaging to protect human health and the environment.”
Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust, said:
“This research has highlighted the range of chemicals that we could be exposed to from packaging. Many of them come from groups of related chemicals of concern such as bisphenols and phthalates.  Often one or two chemicals in a group have been banned or partially banned, but others are still in use. Regulators and industry need to stop moving from one chemical to another within the same groups, and instead move to true safer alternatives. This study also highlights how many problematic chemicals are potentially in use, which raises concerns about how many different chemicals we could be exposed to and the need to understand what could be the effects of these mixtures.”

Next steps

The study has been submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific journal Science of the Total Environment on July 13th, 2018. Now that the project has identified a list of hazardous chemicals, work will continue to identify which of the chemicals should be prioritized to be substituted during the production of plastic packaging.


Industry needs to step up its game and design plastic out of our systems

Informal waste workers of Mumbai sorting through and separating the recyclables. Pic Credit: Pratibha Sharma Why the Maharashtra plastic ban requires a closer look… By: Pratibha Sharma, India Regional Coordinator, GAIA Asia Pacific Maharashtra’s plastic ban can be seen as a step closer to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to end the use of single-use plastic by 2022- a timely announcement as India hosted this year’s World Environment Day. Maharashtra is not the first Indian state to come up with a plastic ban ruling, but it is certainly the first state to set forth a broad action plan and strong punitive measures against plastic. The state had announced a ban on manufacture, use, sale, distribution and storage of plastic materials such as one-time-use bags, spoons, plates, PET, and PETE bottles and styrofoam items on March 23, 2018. The announcement came without a clear roll-out plan and received backlash from both the public and plastic lobbying groups. As a result, the  government decided to give three months’ time, until June 23, to dispose of the existing stocks and to prepare for implementation. The plastic ban notification indicates that violators will be fined over 70 USD and 145 USD for first and second-time offenses respectively. A third-time offender will have to shell out over 350 USD and may also face imprisonment for three months. While the Maharashtra State Government’s move to ban single-use plastic is applauded nationally and internationally, the poor record of the plastic ban implementation in the country, along with the several exemptions, raises several concerns about its rigour and seriousness in addressing the plastic problem effectively. Case in point:  India’s commitment to phase out non-recyclable multi-layered plastics by 2018 through the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 was reversed a mere 20 days prior to its end of the implementation period. The original Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 were hailed as a bold step in the right direction, however they were amended to say that only non-recyclable plastic that is non-energy recoverable or without any alternate use is to be phased out in two years. This gave plastic producers a scope to argue that their products can be put to some other use, if not recycled and also created opportunities for incinerator industries disguised under “waste to energy”, to burn ‘energy-recoverable’ single-use multi-layered plastic for its higher calorific value characteristics. This rendered the phase-out pointless and now effectively allows manufacturers of multilayered single-use plastics and plastic bags to continue with business as usual. Soon after the release of Maharashtra Plastic Ban notification in March, PET bottle and styrofoam manufacturers and retailer associations opposed the ruling in the state’s High Court. They felt the ban was arbitrary, bad in law, and violated their fundamental right to livelihood.  Giving in to the industry pressure, the state modified the rules, and made allowances for PET bottles for water and beverages of all capacities, which had been earlier restricted to bottles under 500 ml. Now, the Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers’ Association (PDWMA) and The Federation of Retail Traders plan to file another appeal in the High Court, seeking permission to use plastic packaging for retail. PDWMA claims that packaging plastics should be exempt from the ban as they use transparent plastics which are “not hazardous for the environment”. In a surprise inspection carried out by Mumbai’s “anti-plastic squad” global food companies such as McDonald, Starbucks, and Burger King, among other food chains, were found to be in contravention of the plastic ban in the state and were fined over 70 USD as first-time offenders. Meanwhile, McDonald's joined restaurant associations in the region in asking for exemptions from the ban for delivery and takeaway orders. Joining the list of plastic-ban-diluters, are the bigger multinational giants - Amazon, H&M, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola -who heavily rely on plastic for products packaging and delivery system. In 2015, plastic packaging accounted for 36% of the plastic waste generated globally. As the production of plastic is largely reliant on fossil hydrocarbons, which are non-renewable resources, if the growth in plastic production continues at the current rate, by 2050 the plastic industry may account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption. plastic Global Plastic Production by Industrial Sector in 2015, UNEP At a time when the world is looking to move away from oil as fuel and towards renewable energy sources, the petrochem industry on the other hand is moving its capacity to plastic production. Rather than stepping up and showing real accountability for the plastic mess already perpetuated by them, industries’ attempt to maintain the status quo by demanding dilution of plastic ban is rather appalling and says a lot about their apathy, business ethics, and commitment to address plastic problem. To help shine a light on the role of corporates and businesses in spawning the plastic crisis, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)  conducted a robust India Waste and Brand Audit under the banner of the Break Free From Plastic global movement. The brand audit was a unique and powerful tool which uses public participation to demonstrate the evidence of plastic pollution. Results showed that both local and international FMCG brands are responsible for the plastic waste in the country. India’s topmost FMCG companies- Parle, Britannia, Amul, ITC, emerged as the top waste generators amongst the national brands where as PepsiCo India topped the multinational list, followed by Perfetti van Melle and Hindustan Unilever, as second and third, respectively. Other multinational brands in the top 10 list are Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, and Ferrero SpA. Multi-layer packaging, which is non-recyclable, accounted for  48% of waste followed by 22% of single-layer packaging, 15% of PET and 12% of hard plastic. The Plastic Bags Manufacturers Association of India estimates that India's plastic industry could lose over $2.2 billion and 300,000 jobs as a result of the Maharashtra State Government ban. While loss of livelihood is a real concern, it is often used as a tool to avoid responsibility by the plastic industry, especially the manufacturers and the leading FMCG companies who enjoy the maximum benefit from the plastic production and recycling. Yet not much of that profit trickles down to those on the front lines of recycling--especially women wastepickers and other informal recycling workers who pick up, clean, sort, and segregate recyclable waste to sell it further up the value chain. Wastepickers from Stree Mukti Sanghatana sorting recyclables at a Material Recovery Facility in Mumbai Pic Credit: Pratibha Sharma As in the case of most developing countries with a robust informal recycling sector, the true cost of India’s recycling operations has never been determined. The cost is often externalized to the environment and to workers by compromising their health, safety, and statutory entitlements. If manufacturers were to face the true costs of their plastic production and recycling operations, such as the costs of handling, disposing, or treating the post-consumer waste generated, as well as the environmental and health impacts of workers, a more realistic assessment of the true cost of recycling would emerge. Unmasking these costs and pinning them back onto manufacturers and consumers will not only shift the economic burden of managing products from local government and taxpayers to product manufacturers and consumers, but it will also call out for innovations in materials science and product redesign that maximizes reuse, repurposing, and recycling. It will also spur the much-needed investment in improving recycling standards and will rally for a fundamental shift in our throwaway culture. Many countries have successfully adopted environmental protection strategy such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in order to design waste out of products. EPR, based on the “polluter pays” principle, entails making manufacturers responsible for the entire lifecycle of the products and packaging that they produce. These instruments range from product take-back schemes, ‘pay-as-you-throw’ fees, advance disposal fees, deposit-refund schemes and recycling and composting incentives. However cities need to be cautious about bad EPR practices which are being pushed to integrate take back schemes to fuel waste in incinerators, cement co-processing facilities and other false climate solutions. While Maharashtra’s single-use plastic ban is a step in the right direction, it will take a lot more than just a ban to fix the problem. The cases of many Indian states and other 60 countries where bans have been introduced indicate that mere plastic bans will not work. A radical shift in our plastic-waste reduction strategy is required which strongly holds the plastic ban, industry accountability, and public education  together and ensures there is a just transition pathway from a linear extractive economy to that of circular economy. As for India, the government should revoke the recent amendment to the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 and reinstate the phasing out of multilayer packaging as the very first step. Only when the government is resolute in its commitment to protect public and environmental health and not swayed by industry pressure will it be able to make India single-use plastic-free by 2022.


Report on International Plastic Bag Free Day – #KathumbaBag Launch

Photo: Zero Waste Ambassador & Former Miss Zambia, Michelo Malambo shopping at a local market with a #KathumbaBag
This report was produced by The Secretariat of the Youth Environment Network (YEN), Zambia Centre for Zero Waste Development, it is republished here with permission from the authors. Last Friday, on July 6 th 2018, The Center for Zero Waste and Development (CZWD) launched the #KathumbaBag at American Corner, NIPA College conference Centre. #KathumbaBag is a reusable bag that can be utilized countless times. Made of a strong material and can be kept conveniently in a cloth that would otherwise have been wasted, the #KathumbaBag is an ideal replacement for consumer’s groceries, replacing single-use plastic bags. Introducing the #KathumbaBag in Lusaka’s market can be a great way for consumers to shop without imposing waste on the environment. Some long-term goals the Center for Zero Waste strives to achieve are the elimination of single-use bags and to increase public awareness of Zero Waste strategies in which individuals can be conscious consumers. Current ways to achieve public awareness is by hosting talks on radio stations and enabling discussions with relevant stakeholders as methods to strengthen digital media and publications. Zero Waste strategies are important to instill in society as each member in society can contribute to initiatives pertaining to a circular economy, whether they are a producer of a good or a consumer of that good. Providing technical support to Zero Waste Ambassador & Former Miss Zambia, Michelo Malambo shopping at a local market with a #KathumbaBag Practitioners on Zero Waste strategies through research and policy briefs are other ways to push for the total ban. We aim to construct a communal center for the local community that will ultimately promote innovation and empower women and youth in Zero Waste enterprises and activities; this can stimulate and promote green jobs in Zambia’s work sector. [caption id="attachment_2930" align="aligncenter" width="743"] U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote, Billy M. Lombe Founder/CEO Centre For zero Waste & Development (CZWD) and Mr. Mwewa Chitambala CZWD Board Member unveiling the #KathumbaBag.[/caption] Before showcasing the Kathumba Bag to honor the International Plastic Bag Free Day, select guest speakers presented on Lusaka’s waste management sector and ways in which we can improve upon reducing plastic dependency and eliminating it from our waste stream. Billy Lombe, founder of the Youth Environment Network and the Center for Zero Waste and Development, opened up the day by discussing his reasons why environmental activism and action are so pertinent. His opening lecture was followed by a speech from Mwewa Chitamabala, Zambia’s Keep Zambia Clean Ambassador. He discussed how sustainable values can be instilled within a society and gave an example of the 2018 World Cup, where Japan’s supporters cleaned up their booths after watching their country play. This brilliant example shows how the Japanese society have instilled positive environmental values, and that it has trickled down to each individual. Such positive clean-up values have become a culture, a culture where it is ingrained to reduce, reuse and recycle waste – even if it is not theirs. This is juxtaposed with Zambian waste management issues, where such a culture is lacking. Communal efforts need to be strengthened within Lusaka to instill such values. Chitambala further discussed how 40% of Lusaka’s waste ends up in the landfill, but asks the audience where the rest of the waste ends up? 60% is not collected and enters our waterways, roads, and is in our homes. With a lack of household collection of paper/cardboard, plastic, glass, waste, sorted collection efforts are minimal. This must change. The following speaker was James Wakibia, a Kenyan photojournalist who is also acknowledged as the man behind Kenya’s plastic bag ban. A short video was shown highlighting the extent of the waste concerns in Kenya. He was the guest speaker at the event, and was invited to share with the audience how his relentless campaigning for the ban of plastic was a success, but also discussed the obstacles he faced. What started as a small scale movement quickly picked up momentum through the use of social media, as he would share his photographs of the over-stressed landscape of waste (most of which was plastic) in his hometown with hashtags such as #banplasticsKE. Two years later, Kenya’s Environment Minister, Judy Wakhungu retweeted Wakibia’s tweets, and in due time, the ban of single-use plastic bags was in place in Kenya. Important takeaways from Wakibia’s presentations were that this is a global social and environmental movement. It does not occur in a vacuum, we must discuss, share, and utilize all the tools at our disposal in order to see change. Finally, the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel L. Foote, discussed the need to preserve the natural habitat in Zambia and across Africa. Wildlife conservation efforts have intensified in some areas, and through such efforts, sustainable and ethical practices can allow for wildlife to thrive alongside sustainable development of communities near wildlife reserves. Though there have been improvements in wildlife conservation over the decades, stronger efforts need to be made to secure the Communities that are dependent on receiving income in environmentally fragile areas, as many areas are faced with deforestation and water scarcity. The Kathumba Bag was presented to Daniel L. Foote, and a certificate of achievement was awarded to James Wakibia to thank him for his continuous efforts to reduce plastic dependency throughout Africa in the strive to meet Zero Waste Strategies. [caption id="attachment_2929" align="aligncenter" width="454"] U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel L. Foote and CZWD Founder/CEO Billy M. Lombe handing over a Certificate of Achievement to James Wakibia for his Outstanding Work in Promoting Zero Waste Solutions[/caption] The event was a success, and, for next years’ event we hope to present awards to companies and individuals who show concerted efforts in reducing waste, and improving upon sustainable development values that are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals #11, to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” Target 11.6 that, “by 2030, the world should reduce 2the adverse per capital environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality, municipal and other waste management”; and Goal #12, to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, Target 12.5 “By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse”.


International Plastic Bag Free Day – actions around the world

This blog was originally published to Zero Waste Europe's website. You can read the original article here. This years International Plastic Bag Free Day saw some of the broadest and most ambitious actions since the launch of the of the day of action nine years ago. With actions taking place from South Korea to Croatia, from Chilé to Iceland, there were actions on every continent. For the first time the action involved many of the thousands of organisations in the #breakfreefromplastic movement, bringing together the power of a global movement to call for an end to single-use plastic bags. With hundreds of actions taking place to mark the day, it is impossible to include them all, but here are a few which demonstrate the breadth and creativity In Madrid Spain, Greenpeace hung a massive 16 x 8 metre banner reminding everyone of the negative impact of plastic bags and encouraged citizens and stores to use reusable bags and join the movement under the hashtag #YoUsoMiBolsa. Greenpeace Spain engaged thousands of people with actions and events taking place in 19 cities to create a network of sustainable stores across Spain that join the movement and promote the elimination of plastic bags. Surfrider Europe released their latest report, produced with assistance from Zero Waste Europe highlighted how many European countries have failed to effectively implement the Plastic Bag Directive, mandating a reduction in single-use plastic bag usage. Despite 18 months since the deadline for implementation of the law, and further developments of the Circular Economy at the European level, national governments have been slow to take action. Together Surfrider EU and Zero Waste Europe have called for stronger implementation of the directive. In Kenya, volunteers and staff from Greenpeace Africa took to the market stalls of Githurai to speak to members of the public about the problems associated with single-use plastic bags as well as promoting alternative options. In Zagreb, Croatia, Zelena Akcija (Friends of the Earth Croatia) held a day of crafts and outreach. Holding a workshop on creating fabric bags from old clothes, they took a banner into the centre of the city where they distributed these bags with information about the problems with single-use plastics. The action marked the beginning of their ‘Week Without Plastic’ [link in Croatian], which included a wide range of events, including film showings and exhibitions. In Bulgaria Za Zemiata and Greenpeace Bulgaria displayed a massive artwork created from plastic bags. The artwork in the seaside town of Burgas demonstrated the impact that single-use plastic bags can have on marine life. The group worked with local community groups to create huge visual representation of the #breakfreefromplastic message. In India, Chintan thanked the households from which the collect separated waste by giving them free cloth bags, and encouraging them to take a pledge not to use plastic bags for their shopping. In the Philippines, Von Hernandez the Global Coordinator of the #breakfreefromplastic movement took to the streets of Manila to urge that the Philippine government enact a law to ban the use of plastic bags, joined by a number of other people demonstrating the available alternatives. Moroccan group Zero Zbel, released the findings of their report on the implementation of the plastic bag ban in their country. The report highlighted a number of ways that the Moroccan government could improve and strengthen the ban to truly outlaw single-use plastic bags in the country. In Penang, Malaysia students and campaigners from CAG (Consumer Action Group) organised an event to produce reusable bags from t-shirts and distribute over 200 of them at the local market. The group called for more rigorous enforcement of existing restrictions and the creation a national prohibition of plastic bags. It is clear that in its ninth year, International Plastic Bag Free Day continues to build momentum. Beginning as a small event in the Catalan city of Barcelona, organised by the group Rezero (formerly called Fundació Catalana per a la Prevenció de Residus i el Consum Responsable) and later developed and grown by Zero Waste Europe with the Plastic Bag Free Day website, it is now a truly global event! With the advent of the #breakfreefromplastic movement has truly blossomed into a massive global event.


Beyond recycling: rethinking plastic from the ground up

This interview was originally published by the Green European Journal and can be found online in full here. Plastic has climbed high up the EU agenda in 2018, with the European Commission publishing its plastics strategy in January and a proposal for a directive on single-use plastics in May. Yet the fight for action against harmful, environmentally damaging plastics long precedes this. Activist and NGO leader Delphine Lévi Alvarès explains how today’s plastic crisis is about more than litter, and why we need a holistic approach with global solutions to effectively counter it.
Green European Journal: As coordinator of the global Break Free From Plastic movement and the Rethink Plastic Alliance, can you describe the global picture of the plastics problem today? Delphine Lévi Alvarès: Over the past decades, plastics has become a worsening crisis. It is now the fastest growing pollutant and travels all over the world. Scientists have found plastic in the deepest oceans and on the most remote beaches, and even in the air we breathe and the water we drink. But that is just the visible part of plastic pollution. For decades, we have addressed plastic only as a marine litter problem, but really it’s all along the plastics value chain. Stopping plastic leaking into the environment, and into the ocean in particular, requires working upstream to reduce the production of plastics, the quantity of polymers on the market, and the chemicals added to plastic products. Today, it is absolutely necessary to take this holistic approach. Plastic pollution starts at the extraction stage because about 99 per cent of plastic comes from fossil fuels, either oil or gas. It’s also about product design. Products must be designed to be long lasting, reusable, and toxic free for safe recycling. At the waste management stage, a lot of plastic products are not recyclable or not collected for recycling, which means that new plastic needs virgin material. And because recycling doesn’t capture the whole stream, plastic ends up in landfills where it eventually degrades and releases chemicals additives. Or it’s incinerated – which is effectively burning the fossil fuels it comes from – and releases pollutants and CO2 into the atmosphere. So recycling is no silver bullet…. Plastic recycling can produce quite a lot of pollution, depending on how it is done. And in most cases, recycling is actually downcycling. It’s quite rare that we manage to recycle a product into the same kind of product. Usually plastics from packaging won’t be used again for packaging because in the recycling process they’re mixed with different kinds of plastics that may include chemical additives, and it’s too dangerous to have these end up in our food wrappers. Studies have found toxic chemicals, mainly flame retardants, in children’s toys made from plastics recovered from electronic devices. All over the world the petrochemicals industry is investing hugely in producing new virgin plastic. We’re talking about an additional 100 million tonnes of plastic production per year. The 12 million tonnes that are leaking into the environment today are nothing compared to what’s coming up if we don’t take action at the production stage. Are some countries ‘worse’ than others when it comes to plastic production and pollution? We’ve been pointing fingers at Southeast Asia for quite some time now, saying that they’re the biggest polluters. As a global movement, Break Free From Plastic knows that the story is actually quite different around the world. Packaging in Southeast Asia is unlike what we see in Europe, mostly coming in a small, multilayered, non-recyclable format. There are a lot of plastic sachets, wraps, bags, and straws. Producers are selling a Western lifestyle but adjusting it to the resources of people there and making it harmful for them directly. Europe has made quite some progress on product design for some specific products because we have extended producer responsibility schemes that require companies to take responsibility for the social and environmental impact of the products they sell. However, these companies tend to follow double standards and act less responsibly in other continents, selling the same products there but in non-recyclable packaging and not contributing to the cost of waste collection and treatment. These countries struggle to finance any kind of system that would help prevent leakage into rivers and the ocean. However, even in places where a lot of plastic goes into the oceans, a lot of solutions are possible and already taking off. In Asia there are zero-waste cities, places so clean that you could eat off the floor, just a few miles away from some of the giant dumps leaking into the ocean that are often shown on TV. In recent years, the EU has been exporting half of its collected and sorted plastics, of which 85 per cent was shipped to China. Is China’s ban on imports of certain types of plastic waste at the start of 2018 an opportunity for Europe’s recycling industry? Yes, definitely. If it’s cheaper to send waste to China or to an Asian or African country to be processed, waste management companies in Europe will send it there. If this is not possible, European recyclers will use the infrastructure that we have. Nevertheless, we will have to increase the recycling capacities in some countries and start recycling more items and plastics to prevent them from being incinerated.
In Asia there are zero-waste cities, places so clean that you could eat off the floor, just a few miles away from giant dumps leaking into the ocean
A lot of what Europe is sending to China is low-value, single-use plastics, mainly packaging. This is a moment to push for product redesign, rather than trying to find a plant in Europe that would be happy to recycle low-value plastics. Would a concerted effort from the EU and China be enough to lead us to a ‘post-plastic’ world, or do we need to work more closely with other nations, in particular those with poor waste management systems? How important is EU leadership on plastics at the global level? Even if the Chinese ban has been a wake-up call for some countries, particularly in the EU, it’s not a step forward for the global plastic pollution issue per se. China is doing this to protect and improve the quality of their own environment, but if plastic keeps being produced, used, and thrown away at this rate, it’s just going to end up somewhere else. Waste is now ending up in countries with even less capacity to handle it properly, so it might leak into the environment and harm the people handling it even more than before. Whole containers of plastic waste are bought by brokers and then split among different, often small family businesses, and handled in conditions that cannot be controlled. That’s where a lot of leakage happens. But let’s be clear, a lot of plastic that is leaking into the environment in Asia actually comes from the US and from Europe. And when it’s not our waste directly, it’s often a product from our Western designers. The role of the EU is not only to make sure that producers act responsibly in Europe, but also to ensure that they are not applying double standards at the global level. If producers are taking responsibility in Europe by contributing to a system that will improve the design of products and cover part of the cost for collection, recycling, and treatment of waste, there is no reason not to do so other continents. It’s a global system with a global market for waste, product, and materials, so the answer has to be coordinated and the EU must take responsibility for the effects of its own companies and waste in other regions by supporting this process financially. On May 28, the European Commission presented its proposal for a new directive on single-use plastics, which includes an outright ban on several throwaway plastic products. What’s your take on the Commission’s proposal? This is definitely a leap forward in tackling plastic pollution, and a sign that the Commission has woken up. We handed over a petition in September 2017 with more than 700 000 signatures asking the Commission to think big, act big, deliver big. It’s a very positive sign that they are finally taking action on the top 10 items identified as the most problematic by scientific monitoring of marine litter. There is a big chance for this legislation to be implemented with a satisfactory level of ambition, and that this is going to have an important impact on the main sources of marine macro-pollution. That being said, it’s a first step on some specific plastic items, while further items exist that are problematic and should be phased out. Besides, this proposal doesn’t address the chemicals issue. If we want to build the recycled material market, we need to clean the loop as early as possible in the value chain. We also don’t want to see single-use plastics being substituted by single-use products made from other materials that can contain the same chemicals, or worse. Is it likely that the proposal will get the approval of Member States and the European Parliament? We’ve seen quite a positive response from the media and from governments all over Europe after the directive’s publication. It was discussed extensively with governments before, and the plastics strategy was a first step in making plastics an EU issue and in building buy-in among Member States. That said, the situation is different across the EU. Some countries already had some of these regulations in place or planned and waste management is carried out differently from country to country. It’s likely that the debate will be passionate, but it’s still too soon to tell.
If we want to build the recycled material market, we need to clean the loop as early as possible in the value chain.
Even if we knew the positions of Member States at this stage, these could well evolve thanks to campaigning, awareness raising, and citizen mobilisation at the national level. Today we are witnessing a lot of people, such as in the slow food or zero waste movements, that want to change their lifestyle and ask for clean and safe products. What’s missing is the systematic availability of the offers or infrastructure to make sustainable alternatives available and cheap. This is where policies can help. While it may be encouraging to have both the Commission’s strategy and directive, the lobby of the plastics industry is extremely big and influential. PlasticsEurope alone, one of the biggest lobbying groups in Brussels, declared its annual budget in 2016 as over 1.5 million euros. How great is the threat that industry lobbies and Member States will water down proposed action on plastics? There has already been a lot of lobbying around the plastics strategy, and now industry lobbies are gearing up. They have been hiring quite some people in the last few months. Some companies that are members of PlasticsEurope or Recyclers, for example, are playing a double role by funding cleanups and so on — to clean up their public image as well! You see PlasticsEurope everywhere, but there is also a lot of lobbying that you don’t see. The chemicals industry is quite active but they are usually not that visible in the discussions. But ultimately it’s the same lobbies. The fossil fuels lobby, the chemicals lobby, and the plastics lobby – they are different people but they have the same interest because the companies are integrated to some extent. Plastic producers are often branches of chemicals companies, for example. It’s highly interconnected. There are big lobbies here, but it’s really a matter of quality of the arguments rather than size. They might have a lot of money for studies, but in the end a lot of the life-cycle analysis that they use is very questionable, and even with our small budget we’ve managed to counter them to some extent. For example, one of their main arguments regarding the plastic strategy was that packaging is essential to fight food waste – but this is really not the case. In April, we published a study on plastic packaging and food waste debunking some of the myths spread by the plastics industry. What hopes does the Rethink Plastic Alliance have for the near future, and what can NGOs and citizens do now to ensure continued progress on combating the plastic crisis beyond the directive? We will keep working with the Parliament and the Council on the newly tabled single-use plastic legislation and other political or technical processes where plastic is addressed. Even if the focus right now is on single-use plastics, other issues, like the one of chemicals in plastics, are critical to tackle plastic pollution and build a circular economy. It’s also important to prepare for the next mandate to make sure the plastic issue isn’t dropped. There is now legislation on single-use plastics – just a first step and certainly not the last – so mobilisation at the national level involving policy-makers, citizens, and businesses is key to ensure that better options are available to people and that alternative business models are developed and implemented.
There are big lobbies here, but it’s really a matter of quality of the arguments rather than size.
These are things that we’re already doing, but it’s about intensifying them and building visibility so that national decision-makers who are playing a role in the debate at the EU level will have it in mind and go in the right direction. As it’s a global issue as well as an EU policy issue, we will keep using the network and the movement to show EU institutions that people outside Europe are watching and have high expectations. To contribute to meeting the aims of the Commission’s plastic strategy, the 2021-2027 EU budget proposes to introduce a plastic-based EU tax in which Member States would pay 0.80 euro into the EU budget for every kilo of plastic packaging waste not recycled. Do NGOs support that proposal, and is it likely to get the Council’s support? We do not support this measure, as it does not create any incentive to reduce plastic production or consumption. Moreover, it’s going to be once again the Member States, the taxpayers, who are made to pay, instead of the companies responsible for products not being recyclable. Member States haven’t been given the chance to implement existing measures on waste collection and recycling before this tax has been suggested, and even those that were going to meet the waste directive’s targets are going to be taxed anyway. If we really want to have an impact on plastic pollution, we have to move away from end-of-life economic incentives and tackle the existing obstacles to a circular economy for plastics, such as the low price of crude oil that encourages companies to use virgin plastic. Europe is now producing plastics from fracked hydrocarbons imported from the US, so another option could be to tax hydrocarbons. It’s really at a very early stage in the production chain that we have to intervene to have an impact downstream. Bioplastics have been presented by some as a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics. What is the NGO take on bioplastics? Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between bio-based and biodegradable plastics. Bio-based tells you about where they came from – the feedstock – while biodegradable is a property of the plastic. It’s also important to recognise that bio-based plastics, at least at this stage, almost always contain some fossil fuel-based plastic. Most of the bio-based feedstock that enters the market today still comes from food crops such as corn, sugarcane and beetroot, replacing the food crops cultivated for the local people’s needs. Bio-based feedstock usually comes from very intensive agriculture involving GMOs and a lot of pesticides, and is imported from countries, like Argentina, where it has a big impact on the overall equilibrium of the ecosystem. Also, bioplastics are not necessarily clean – they can still contain the same additives and chemicals as in other kinds of plastics – so just switching to another feedstock is not a solution. The solution is really prevention at source. Promoting biodegradable products sends the message to people that littering is OK because the waste is going to biodegrade.. And when it comes to waste management, biodegradable plastics can contaminate the recycling or the composting system. As they are not recyclable in the same way as normal packaging, putting them into a separate collection system will make the whole waste stream less dense, and potentially less viable and profitable.


Bring Your Own Bag, Say No to Plastic Bags

Press Release  3 July 2018 In conjunction of Plastic Bag Free Day on 3rd July, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) distributed 200 free cloth bags made from discarded t-shirts to market-goers in Bagan Ajam Market in Butterworth, Penang.  The event to mark the global day of action was a joint action with SMK Convent Butterworth and Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai.  Demonstration on how to make reusable bags from old t-shirts was conducted by the students and teachers of SMK Convent Butterworth. As a symbol of our disposable consumer society, single use plastic bags which is a plague to the environment, are still being widely used although there are certain prohibitions in place.  For instance Penang was the first state in Malaysia to launch the "No Free Plastic Bag" campaign in July 2009. The ruling on no free plastic bag applies to a number of shopping outlets but exempts hawkers and wet markets. Hence we still see a lot of plastic bags everywhere. Easily picked up by the wind plastic bags are a significant source of plastic pollution in the ocean, but they also cause major problems on the land, blocking drains and contributing to devastating floods.  Consumers must realise that eliminating plastic bags is necessary to decrease the amount of waste and pollution. The first step for consumers is always to bring reusable bags. Cloth bags made from old t-shirts are handy and can be washed and reused. To purchase wet items such as meat or fish, consumers can bring their own containers.  Supermarkets should also allow customers to bring their own bags for purchasing vegetables, and not hand out thin plastic bags for each item that is purchased, as currently practised. CAP calls for more rigorous implementation of existing prohibitions on plastic bags. We also need nation-wide ban on plastic bags as implemented in several countries. For example in Rwanda, it is illegal to import, produce, use or sell plastic bags and plastic packaging, except within specific industries like hospitals and pharmaceuticals. The tough ban on plastic bags in Kenya since August 2017 has been successful in cleaning up the country, so much so that other east African nations Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit. In China a ban on thin plastic bags has led to a 60-80% reduction in their use in supermarkets. In Denmark and Finland the average annual consumption of lightweight plastic bags is 4 per person! Life without plastic bags is possible, as observed in countries that have imposed strict  bans. There is no excuse! It is time we get rid of single-use plastic bags for good! #breakfreefromplastic  #plasticbagfreeday S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS President Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)  10 Jalan Masjid Negeri 11600 Penang Tel:          604-8299511 Fax:         604-8298109 Website:  consumer.org.my pengguna.org.my