Our Responsibility for our Environment (2)

Plastic pollution – the big picture.


Update No.:             1: biodegradability          2: consumer society         3: microplastics in rain                4: earthworms       5: China        6: Italy

7: bags for life        8: toothpaste tubes


Talk on plastics: Our Responsibility for our Environment (2)

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1. Biodegradability?

The only biodegradable plastics are those made from natural polymers, and cellophane – which are expensive (from notes by UEL student).

The average time that a plastic bag is used for is … 12 minutes. Then it takes about 20 years to degrade. (From The Telegraph Jan 2018:


The most durable plastic items, such as bottles, disposable nappies and beer holders, can take 450 years to biodegrade - over five times the average life expectancy of a British person. Other commonplace items such as straws can take up to 200 years to biodegrade and foam plastic cups can take 50 years.

Plastic bags are around for less time - taking about 20 years to degrade - but their impact on the environment can be equally as harmful, with plastic bags known to be eaten by a variety of marine wildlife. Jo Ruxton, a former researcher on Blue Planet and producer of the A Plastic Ocean film, said single-use items could float around in the seas for decades causing havoc in the marine eco-system.

She said: “It is estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of the plastic sinks to the bottom [of the ocean]. It gets brittle as it gets old and breaks into tiny pieces and mixes into the plankton, which is the heart of the marine food chain. “We are producing far too much plastic believing it is disposable. It’s not, it’s indestructible.”

2. (23rd Jan 2020). Problem is amount we consume: (Damian Carrington)

Annually, humans consume over 100bn tonnes of material, and this is four times what it was in 1970. In the last 2 years, consumption has gone up by 8%, but re-use has gone down from 9.1% to 8.6%. Report by the Circle Economy thinktank (lead author: Marc de Wit, chief executive: Harald Friedl), launched at Davos. On average, every person on earth uses more than 13 tonnes of materials per year.  In 2017 100.6bn tonnes of materials were consumed. Half is sand, clay, gravel and cement and minerals quarried for fertiliser; coal oil and gas make up 15%, metal ores 10%. Plants etc used for food and fuel: 25%. Housing accounts for 40%.

15% is emitted as climate-heating gases, and nearly a quarter is discarded into the environment. A third is treated as waste.

13 European countries have adopted road-maps towards a circular economy. China’s ban on waste has made other countries such as Australia think about a circular economy.

5. (20th Jan 2020). China: From Ecowatch, Olivia Rosane, 20th Jan 2020.

China, the world's No. 1 producer of plastic pollution, announced major plans Sunday to cut back on the sale and production of single-use plastics.

According to the plans put forward by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, plastic bags will be banned in major cities by the end of 2020 and in smaller cities and towns by 2022, Reuters reported. (Markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables will have until 2025 to phase out the bags).

The commission said it was enacting the changes in order to protect public health and "to build a beautiful China," CNN reported.

The plan targets a variety of plastic types and industries over the next five years, BBC News reported. Other measures include:

The plan also calls for the phaseout of plastic takeaway items and shipping packages, Reuters reported. The government also announced Sunday it would work to create recycling programs and promote the use of recycled plastics, according to CNN.

"It's the first time Beijing has recognised single-use plastics as a major problem and specified the urgent necessity to significantly reduce them," Greenpeace tweeted in response to the announcement.

China did ban retailers from giving away free plastic bags in 2008, and also banned the production of ultra-thin bags, BBC News reported.

China is the world's largest manufacturer of plastic, according to CNN. It is also the world's leading producer of plastic waste, according to the University of Oxford's Our World in Data.   It produced 60 million tonnes (approximately 66 million U.S. tons) in 2010, followed by the U.S., which produced 38 million tonnes (approximately 42 U.S. tons). However, on a per capita basis, the average Chinese person discards one-fourth to one-half of the plastic waste discarded by the average U.S. resident.

But because China has a much larger population, the tossing of plastic waste has become a major problem for its infrastructure and environment, overwhelming its landfills and polluting its rivers. China's largest dump is around the size of 100 soccer fields and is already at capacity, 25 years before planned, BBC News reported. And the Yangtze River dumps more plastic into the oceans than any other river in the world, according to CNN.

Around eight million metric tons of plastic enter the world's oceans every year, where they pose a major threat to marine life. China is the leading contributor to the kind of mismanaged plastic waste that is the most likely to end up in the oceans, generating around 28 percent of the world's total, according to Our World in Facts. Asia as a whole is the region that produces the most mismanaged waste, but other countries in the area are also taking steps to combat the problem. Thailand banned plastic bags at major stores this year; Bali in Indonesia banned single-use plastics; and Jakarta, the country's capital, will ban plastic bags by June 2020, BBC News reported.

Extra notes on China from same source:

China is the world's largest manufacturer of plastic, according to CNN. It is also the world's leading producer of plastic waste, according to the University of Oxford's Our World in Data.   It produced 60 million tonnes (approximately 66 million U.S. tons) in 2010, followed by the U.S., which produced 38 million tonnes (approximately 42 U.S. tons). However, on a per capita basis, the average Chinese person discards one-fourth to one-half of the plastic waste discarded by the average U.S. resident.

But because China has a much larger population, the tossing of plastic waste has become a major problem for its infrastructure and environment, overwhelming its landfills and polluting its rivers. China's largest dump is around the size of 100 soccer fields and is already at capacity, 25 years before planned, BBC News reported. And the Yangtze River dumps more plastic into the oceans than any other river in the world, according to CNN.

Around eight million metric tons of plastic enter the world's oceans every year, where they pose a major threat to marine life. China is the leading contributor to the kind of mismanaged plastic waste that is the most likely to end up in the oceans, generating around 28 percent of the world's total, according to Our World in Facts. Asia as a whole is the region that produces the most mismanaged waste, but other countries in the area are also taking steps to combat the problem. Thailand banned plastic bags at major stores this year; Bali in Indonesia banned single-use plastics; and Jakarta, the country's capital, will ban plastic bags by June 2020, BBC News reported.

8. (15th Jan. 2020 Zoe Wood): Colgate is launching toothpaste in a recyclable tube. Consumers get through 20bn tubes every year. New brand is ‘Smile for Good’. Certified by vegan society as cruelty-free. Made from HDPE (high density polyethylene), the plastic used in milk bottles. But it is six times as expensive as regular tubes. Colgate aiming at a circular economy... Colgate has also said all its packaging will be recyclable by 2025.

3. (28th Dec 2019 Damian Carrington): Microplastic in the rain:

Four cities have been assessed, and the particles have been found everywhere especially in London. Research published in Environment International, led by Stephanie Wright of Kings College London. Problem is, we don’t know much at all about effects... Collected on rooftops and deposition rates ranged from 575 to 1,008 pieces per sq metre per day. 15 different types of plastic were identified. Most were acrylic, from e.g. clothing. London has a rate 7 times higher than Paris and three times Hamburg. Particles were between 0.02mmand 0.5mm – large enough to reach the airways and into saliva.

One study says people consume at least 50,000 microplastic particles a year.

About 335mtonnes of new plastic is produced each year.

6. 27th Dec 2019 Italian ski resort (Pejo 3000) in Val di Sole, Trentino has banned plastic after a study found 131m – 162m plastic particles in the surface of one of the largest glaciers in the Italian Alps. The Pejo valley has hydroelectric plants and wood-chip heating from local forestry operations.

Plastic fibres found in creatures at bottom of deepest trench in the ocean.


7. (28th Nov 2019 Sandra Laville): more ‘bags for life’ means bigger plastic footprint for supermarkets:

Research from Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace shows footprint is rising. In 2018 supermarkets put out 903,000 tonnes of plastic packaging – an increase of 17,000 tonnes from 2017. This includes now 1.5bn ‘bags for life’ – 54 per household, a 26% increase (over previous year?). EIA calls for a ban on them. Some customers are simply getting bags for life as a substitute for single-use bags.

29th Oct 2019. The store John Lewis has stopped selling 5p single-use plastic bags at its Oxford store so as to encourage reduce reuse and return. Over a year this could save 5 tonnes of plastic. Sales of 5p bags had fallen by 30% since the charge was introduced, but they still sold 11.5m last year! Other incentives had been introduced at the same store (see elsewhere).

14th Oct 2019 – demand for used plastic could cause recycling costs to soar (Jillian Ambrose): Recycled plastic flakes have in recent months become more expensive than virgin plastic for the first time. Report from S & G Global Platts – recycled plastic costs an extra £57 a tonne. Trend is driven in part by growing demand for recycled plastic in new products. New plastic is becoming cheaper because of the US shale boom. Smaller manufacturers may be forced to go back to using new plastic (harder for large companies to do this). Packaging manufacturers are under pressure to reduce the amount of new plastic used: Coca Cola aims to cut the amount in its soft drink bottles by 50% within the next two years. UK is planning to tax companies that do not use at least 30% recycled plastic in their products. Experts are calling for govt to support plans to increase the amount of recycled plastic in the market – e.g. incentives for new recycling plants, or importing flakes from Latin America.

4. (12th Sep. 2019). Microplastics: seem to harm earthworms, as their weight suffers a decrease. Worms placed in soil loaded for 30 days with high density polyethylene (HDPE) lost about 3% of their bodyweight, whereas worms in soil without PDPE gained 5%. Lead author: Bas Roots, Anglia Ruskin University, in Environmental Science and Technology. Possible explanation: obstruction or irritation of the digestive tract. The worms (especially rosy-tipped earthworm, Apporectodea rosea) are vital in agriculture.

European studies have found anything between 700 and 4,000 plastic particles per kilogram of soil in some agricultural land.

31st Aug. 2019. M & S to remove glitter from Christmas cards, wrapping paper calendars and crackers. Aims to be 100% plastic free by end 2020. Most glitter is made from aluminium bonded to polyethylene terephthalate. Trillions of microplastic particles have been found in the oceans.  M & S have removed 1,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from its business. Waitrose, Tesco and Aldi are taking similar action. (Sarah Butler).

June 2019: where has all the plastic gone?


June 2019, plastics, recycling & the global south: https://leftfootforward.org/2019/06/the-war-over-where-your-recyling-goes/

17th May 2019. (Ben Smee) A million shoes among debris on beaches of the Cocos (Keeling ) Islands (popn. 600):

There were 414m pieces of plastic, weighing 238 tonnes. Published in Nature, marine scientists found 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes on these Indian Ocean islands. The islands are Australian, and 800 miles south-west of Jakarta.

It is now estimated there are 5.25tn pieces of ocean plastic debris, says Annett Finger from Victoria University and co-author of the report..

There is an exponential increase in plastic pollution. Much of the waste was buried and previous surveys may have underestimated quantities if they only took the surface waste into account.

13th April 2019. Letters from: Maddy Haughton-Boakes, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Richard Ali, Paper Cup Alliance.

The deposit charge on carrier bags has been shown to work, since these now comprise only 1% of the pollution. There should be a deposit return system for all drinks containers – the producers should be liable for the costs of dealing with packaging.

The polyethylene coating on paper cups can be ‘easily separated from the paper using water. There are five cup recycling plants across the UK that are already doing this and have the capacity to recycle all paper cups in the UK...’ Glasgow, Leeds and Cardiff are showing cup collection initiatives. ‘Used paper cups are accepted at Costa, Nero, Greggs, Starbucks and McDonald’s and there are now 4,500 high-street collection points and over 20 waste management companies supporting paper cup collection schemes.’

17th April 2019. Letter from Michael Stephen, Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association.

There is a way of making plastic more biodegradable, so it decays more quickly and can be recycled into nature by naturally occurring bacteria. Oxo-biodegradation is required by law in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. It creates no toxicity.

17th April 2019, Jonathan Watts: history of plastic pollution:

A plankton sampling device – collecting pelagic plankton which indicates water quality as well as being a source of food for marine life – has been operating for the past century, and also recorded problems when its work was disrupted by plastic... Strands of fishing twine were first found off the coast of Iceland in 1957, then a plastic bag in 1965. During the three decades from the ‘50s less than 1% of tows were disrupted, by the 1990s it was 2% and now it is between 3% and 4%.

The device was towed at a depth of about 7 metres, which is where many fish and marine mammals are found, and it covered a very wide range of oceans – the worst was the southern North Sea.

Since 2004 it has also been sampling for microplastics and has shown a big rise from 1960 – 1990.

Government cuts in the 1980s nearly led to the project stopping, but scientists kept it going and modernised its procedures.

A proposal from SumOfUs.org

The Basel Convention is a legally binding agreement on cross-border waste disposal signed by almost every country in the world, including the European Union. With one small tweak, proposed by Norway, countries exporting their plastic rubbish would have to get the prior informed consent of the country receiving it -- so developing countries can keep shiploads of plastic pollution from landing on their shores.

But getting all 190 governments on board by May will be no easy task, especially with plastic industry lobbyists desperate to keep the status quo. That’s why we need this campaign right now.

Sign the petition to your government, and all Parties to the Basel Convention, to vote for Norway’s Proposals to amend Annexes II, VIII and IX to the Basel Convention.


8th April 2019. (Fiona Harvey) According to the Plastic Rivers report, from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK:

Plastic bottles are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution, followed by food wrappers and then cigarette butts. Plastic bags only comprise 1%, showing the bans etc have had an impact. About 80% of plastic rubbish flows into the oceans from rivers. We need to focus on cleaning up rivers, some say, while we deal with our dependence on throwaway plastic. The report looked at macroplastic in fresh water, and excluded fishing gear (which RSPCA says kills birdlife). It also excluded items from farming and industry, to concentrate on consumers’ contributions.

8th April 2019.Links to Greenpeace action on plastics, especially with reference to Sainsbury’s:

] Greenpeace: Sainsbury's April Fools 
[2] Greenpeace names and shames Sainsbury's in plastic packaging spat
[3] Greenpeace: 'online, offline this April fools is not going well for Sainsbury’s'
[4] Greenpeace: supermarket plastic league table

April 2019: Global Citizen: UN Global Goals.

Plastic waste is a scourge on the natural environment, and innovation is absolutely key when it comes to ensuring we dispose of our waste sustainably. The UN’s Global Goals include calls to protect life on land and life below water (Goal No. 14 and 15), and to create cities and communities that are sustainable (Goal No.11). Join the movement by taking action here to support the Global Goals. 

Tesco supermarket has launched a trial for an innovative recycling scheme specifically focusing on plastics that can’t be recycled on the kerb. Soft plastics like crisp packets, plastic bags, and pet food pouches generally can’t be recycled by local authorities — blocking efforts to hit 100% recycling rates. But the supermarket has now partnered with Swindon-based recycling specialist Recycling Technologies to help tackle the problem. From this week, according to Tuesday's announcement, Tesco is actively encouraging shoppers to bring their non-recyclable plastics to collection points at 10 stores across Swindon and Bristol. 

And if the trial goes well, the initiative could be rolled out across the whole of the UK. The plan is basically to create a closed loop for plastic production. The soft plastics returned to the store will be converted back into oil by Recycling Technologies, and then that oil can be used in the production of new plastics. According to Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s director of quality, the technology “could be the final piece of the jigsaw for the UK plastic recycling industry.” Bradbury added that the initiative will help the store reach its target to have all of its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025. 

And environmental campaigners are on board with the initiative too. Paula Chin, WWF UK’s sustainable materials specialist, said: “It’s great to see Tesco running this innovative trial, looking for new ways to make it easier for customers to recycle plastic materials which would usually go in their waste bins.” She added: “While we can all do our bit by reducing the plastic we buy and embracing reusable items, we need producers, businesses, and governments to face their responsibilities too.” 

The stores involved in the trial are: Bristol Lime Trees Road Superstore, Yate Extra, Bristol Brislington Extra, Bristol Staple Hill Metro, Keynsham Superstore, Bristol East Extra, Cirencester Metro — Farrell Close, Cirencester Extra, Swindon Extra, and Tetbury Superstore.

The announcement is a step in the right direction for achieving the goals set out in the UK Plastics Pact — signed by dozens of companies in the UK in April 2018 to help crack down on plastic pollution. Tesco was one of the supermarkets that signed, along with Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Waitrose. In fact, combined, those that signed the pact are responsible for some 80% of the plastic packing on products sold in UK supermarkets. And one of the four targets outlined in the pact is to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable. 

According to the most recent government data, from 2017, the UK recycling rate for waste from households is about 46% — still short of the EU target to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020. For packaging waste specifically, plastic falls far short of most other recyclable materials. In 2017, according to the data, about 46% of plastic packaging was recycled; compared to 71% of metal, 79% of paper, and 67% of glass. 

But while individuals and local authorities can also play their part in making sure we dispose of our waste sustainably, there is also an ongoing call from campaigners for supermarkets and other businesses to take greater responsibility for disposing of the plastic waste they’re putting into the market. Supermarkets in the UK currently pay less towards the proper collection and disposal of plastic waste that in any other country in the EU, according to a 2018 Guardian report. Instead, taxpayers pay 90% of the total cost. The plastic pact, and the actions that are coming as a result, is great — but campaigners have also consistently said that voluntary action isn’t enough, and that we need legal enforcements in place to hold businesses accountable to their pledges. 

Julian Kirby, from Friends of the Earth, said of the pact that it must be “accompanied by government measures to ensure that everyone plays their part and these targets are actually met. 

1. Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide.

2. In some parts of the world, using plastic is already illegal.

3. 73% of beach litter worldwide is plastic. 

4. A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.

5. Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.

6. 90% of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers.

7. Plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year.

8. The average person eats 70,000 microplastics each year.

9.  The average time that a plastic bag is used for is … 12 minutes. (Then it takes up to a thousand years to decompose!)

10. Over the past 50 years, world plastic production has doubled.

From: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/plastic-pollution-facts/

Polar bears eat plastic when they scavenge on rubbish dumps... https://mail.yahoo.com/d/folders/1/messages/35805

Greenpeace has carried out a survey of supermarkets, ranking them by how much they do about plastics: Best is Iceland, scoring 58% for reducing single-use plastic, 47% for eliminating non-recyclable plastic, 49% for influencing suppliers, and 84% for transparency. Worst is Sainsbury’s, 31%..... 15%....  36%.... 61%.... https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/supermarket-score-new-plastic-league-table/

7th March 2019. Damian Carrington. A study in Singapore has shown microplastics can harbour harmful bacteria. A study led by Christian Dunn at Bangor University shows how much microplastic there is in our waterways: they were found in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs studied. In the Tame, (near Manchester) – which is the most contaminated place yet tested in the world, there were more than 1,000 pieces per litre. Even in remote places like Loch Lomond there were two or three pieces per litre. The Thames had about 80 particles per litre, and the Blackwater in Essex had 15. Ullswater has 30, and the Llyn Cefni reservoir on Anglesey had 40. Plastic has been found in Swiss mountains and in the deepest parts of the oceans.

28th Nov. 2018, Damian Carrington. Microplastics in the sea.

Toxins from microplastics stop periwinkles from being able to detect crabs that eat them. In Biology Letters, a new study shows damage to a link between predator and prey – previous research had shown mussels were harmed. The periwinkle is a keystone species, it eats algae and is eaten by crabs. Microplastics attract metals and persistent organic pollutants.

22nd Nov 2018. Sandra Laville. Microplastic comes from tyres and synthetic clothing, according to FoE. Between 9 and 32 thousand tonnes of microplastic enters waterways each year from just four sources: tyre abrasion accounts for 7-19,000 tonnes. Clothing creates up to 2,900 tonnes – two thirds of clothing is made from synthetic material, according to a report by Eunomia. 26,000 tonnes of large plastic waste enters waterways each year. Up to 5,900 tonnes of plastic pellets used in manufacturing, and between 1,400 and 3,700 tonnes of paint are lost to surface waters each year. FoE recommends a standardised test to measure tyre tread abrasion rates, and a car tyre levy to pay for research into solutions and mitigation measures.

21st Nov 2018. Dead whale had 1,000 plastic items in its stomach. AP

It was washed up in eastern Indonesia. Plastic included flip-flops, 115 drinking cups according to staff from Wakatobi national park. It was a 9.5 metre sperm whale. The plastic weighed 5.9 kg. Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China according to an article in Science (Jan 2018) – it produces 3.2m tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste a year, of which 1.29m tonnes ends up in the ocean.

19th Oct 2018. Sandra Laville. The plastics recycling industry is facing an investigation into suspected widespread abuse and fraud within the export system amid warnings the world is about to close the door on UK packaging waste, the Guardian has learned.

The Environment Agency (EA) has set up a team of investigators, including three retired police officers, in an attempt to deal with complaints that organised criminals and firms are abusing the system.

Six UK exporters of plastic waste have had their licences suspended or cancelled in the last three months, according to EA data. One firm has had 57 containers of plastic waste stopped at UK ports in the last three years due to concerns over contamination of waste.

Allegations that the agency is understood to be investigating include:

·         Exporters are falsely claiming for tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste which might not exist

·         UK plastic waste is not being recycled and is being left to leak into rivers and oceans

·         Illegal shipments of plastic waste are being routed to the Far East via the Netherlands

·         UK firms with serial offences of shipping contaminated waste are being allowed to continue exporting.

UK households and businesses used 11m tonnes of packaging last year, according to government figures. Two-thirds of our plastic packaging waste is exported by an export industry which was worth more than £50m last year.

The exporters make millions by charging retailers and manufacturers a fluctuating tonnage rate for plastic waste recovery notes – currently £60 a tonne. Retailers buy these plastic export recovery notes – Perns – to satisfy the government they are contributing something to recycling plastic packaging waste. But the system – which was heavily criticised as open to fraud and abuse by the National Audit Office this summer – relies on companies making self declarations about how much packaging they are exporting.

The Guardian understands information has been passed to the EA – the regulators – which shows huge discrepancies between the amount of packaging exports recorded by HM customs, compared to the amount UK exporters claim to have shipped. The data, analysed by the Guardian, reveals British export firms claim to have shipped abroad 35,135 tonnes more plastic than HM Customs has recorded leaving the country.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry said: “In the last few months the customs figures on waste plastic are lower than the figures given to the Environment Agency by the exporters – suggesting more people are shipping stuff they claim is waste plastic in order to get the Pern price. “Perns are running at around £60-70 a tonne, so that encourages all sorts of people to pursue the export market, and the question is whether the enforcement is strong enough to detect whether this is actually plastic waste being shipped out.”

At least 100 containers of plastic waste a day are shipped out from ports including Felixstowe and Southampton to Europe and the Far East. Insiders said EA staff have never visited any of the countries or sites where British waste plastic is exported for recycling.

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), is one of many individuals who has raised the issue of the discrepancy in figures with the EA. “We have flagged this and they are aware of it,” he said. ‘The agency and others are looking at how to improve enforcement … there is organised crime, and criminal gangs exploit the system, that does go on.”

The ongoing investigation into corruption in the plastics industry comes as the UK seeks new international markets for its plastic waste. In January, China stopped accepting British plastic waste and exports shifted to Malaysia, Vietnam and Poland. But Malaysia and Vietnam have imposed temporary bans on imports and Poland is considering restrictions, a sign that countries are growing more wary amid evidence of high contamination rates.

Figures seen by the Guardian show UK exports to Turkey and the Netherlands soaring as a result. Several insiders told the Guardian the export market – which the UK relies on as it struggles to meet a target to reprocess more than half its plastic waste by 2020 – could dry up within weeks. Phil Conran, director 360 Environmental and chair of the government’s advisory committee on packaging, said: “All these markets are effectively closing the door to the poor quality material and they are increasingly limited in what they will accept of the better quality material. “At the moment material is still being collected and still going somewhere ... but all the sense is that we have reached a tipping point and we simply are struggling to find markets for material that is being collected.”

The new markets have brought more fears of abuse within the system. According to packaging declarations made by companies, the UK exported 27,034 tonnes of waste plastic to Turkey in the first three months of this year compared to 12,022 tonnes in the first three months of 2017. Netherlands exports have risen by nearly 10,000 tonnes in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period in 2016; 38,207 tonnes in 2018 compared to 28,784 in 2016.

The EA has been passed allegations that export firms are using the Netherlands to effectively launder plastic waste – exploiting looser controls over shipments to Europe – before illegally moving it out to other countries in the Far East, where they might struggle to get approval under the UK licence system.

Addie van der Spapen, of Netherlands recycling firm Kunststof Recycling, said the country certainly did not have the capacity to reprocess increased amounts of plastic waste from the UK. “It won’t all get recycled. Europe is getting overflowed with the material from England, they are flooding Europe with their plastic,” he said. The growing market in Turkey is also raising fears that more UK plastic waste will leak into the oceans. One source said: “The concern about Turkey is more whether material is being stored to be recycled later, or not recycled at all and being burnt.”

An inquiry by the National Audit Office [pdf] earlier this year criticised the lack of rigour by the EA and the Government. “The financial incentive for companies to fraudulently claim they have recycled plastic packaging is higher than for any other material,” they said. “There is therefore a risk that some of it is not recycled under equivalent standards to the UK and is instead sent to landfill or contributes to pollution.” Marie Fallon, of the Environment Agency, has confirmed to MPs an intelligence led central investigations team has been set up to tackle corruption and fraud within the export system. Fallon accepted the agency could have done better over the years in tackling abuses. In 2016-17 staff carried out fewer than 40 pc of 346 spot checks on companies it had planned. This year five export firms flagged as red rated for risk are still operating and 33 considered to be of medium risk are also still accredited to export waste.

8th Nov 2018. Effects of Brexit! Sandra Laville.

Hundreds of people who protect biodiversity and enforce environmental regulations in the UK have been redeployed to work on Brexit. The raid on staff from the Environment Agency, which is responsible for enforcing rules on recycling, air pollution and protecting the country from flooding, and Natural England, which protects habitats and species, has been condemned by MPs.

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, on Thursday published a letter from the environment secretary, Michael Gove, which reveals 400 staff have been moved from these agencies to work centrally on Brexit. The staff moves come as the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) rushes to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, which will have a particular impact on dairy and chemical exports. Gove’s letter says some of the enforcement and protection work the staff do will be reallocated or paused for now, raising fears that vulnerable habitats and species are being left unprotected because of the chaos over Brexit.

“Preparations for leaving the EU must not get in the way of protecting our treasured natural spaces and iconic British wildlife,” said Creagh.

The Guardian revealed recently how overstretched Environment Agency staff were attempting to investigate widespread abuse and corruption [see above] within the plastic recycling export market. The agency has lost a large number of staff between 2010 and 2018. Sources told the Guardian, enforcement work on plastic recycling had to be put on hold due to staff shortages even before the raid by Defra.

Creagh raised concerns in September over the vulnerability of England’s sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). The agency has revealed that over two years the number of SSSIs which are in an unfavourable condition has increased.

24th Oct 2018, Sandra Laville, Isle of Man has rid its beaches of plastic.

In 2007 it took people six weekends to clear plastic litter, and they found 30,000 plastic bottles and large pieces of plastic. A charity – Beach Buddies – carries out regular clean-ups. UNESCO has designated it a biosphere region, along with other islands for commitment to protecting the coastal environment and biodiversity. There are 52 UNESCO island and coastal biosphere areas, including Menorca, the Maldives, the Philippines, Mauritius, Jeju in South Korea and Noosa in Australia.

Only 13% of the world’s oceans have avoided the impact of humanity, says Dr Fiona Gell, marine biologist in the Dept for Environment, Food and Agriculture in the Isle of Man government. She is concerned about the decline of sea grass, which has a really high level of carbon storage and is important for juvenile scallops. Environmentalists have overcome the opposition of fishing businesses (king and queen scallops, brown crab, lobster and whelk) but they have now been involved in drawing up the protective marine belt around the island. Now, dredging or trawling for scallops is banned throughout the year except for two weeks before Christmas. They are allowed to trawl for 30 minutes maximum, and regular stock surveys are carried out. The fishermen understand the danger of over-fishing.

There are about 15,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) covering about 7% of the world’s oceans. Half the US’s territorial waters are protected, and other countries such as France, Australia have MPAs. It is important to distinguish different kinds of MPA though, as only ‘fully protected’ or ‘strongly protected’ areas are really effective. A fully protected area can increase the total mass of marine life by more than 400%. This is needed because sea life has been declining – World Wide Fund for Nature estimated in 2015 that the number of fish in the oceans had halved since 1970. Coral reefs are also affected.

Each year 8m tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean. By 2050 there will be more plastic by weight than fish according to the Allen MacArthur Foundation. By 2050 we will be producing 1.1 billion tonnes per year, i.e. 36 tonnes per second.

70% of the world’s surface is ocean.

There are about 230,000 marine species living in our oceans.

23rd Oct 2018, microplastics in human stools.

Particles have been found in the stools of eight people from Europe, Japan and Russia. Up to 9 different plastics were found out of 10 varieties tested for. Most common were polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate were the most common. On average, 20 particles per 10g were found. Microplastics are defined as particles of less than 5mm. The authors estimate that more than 50% of the world’s population might have microplastics in their stools.

Tests were carried out by the Environment Agency Austria, led by a medical researcher from University of Vienna.

Previous studies have found microplastics in the gut of fish, and in tap water and in flying insects. In Italy a recent investigation found them in soft drinks. In birds they damage the small intestine, disrupt iron absorption and stress the liver. Nothing is known about the impact on human health.

14th Sep 2018, Daniel Boffey: a bicycle path has been made of recycled plastic.

In the Netherlands a 30-metre path made from 218,000 recycled plastic cups has opened in Zwolle (in the north-east) as part of a trial. It is expected to be three times as durable as asphalt. The venture has been carried out by engineers KWS, Total (oil and gas), and Wavin (pipemaker). Other places including Rotterdam may take up the technology. The path is made in prefabricated sections which are light and hollow, and easy to transport; cables and pipes can easily be fitted inside and it is designed to drain off rainwater. It is seen as sustainable...

Asphalt is responsible for 1.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, which is 2% of global road transport emissions.

The EU has proposed that all plastic should be reusable or recyclable by 2030.  Some opponents argue that wear and run-off will produce microplastic particles.

26th January 2018. Damian Carrington. Plastic has been found to cause disease in coral reefs. 89% of the corals examined that were fouled by plastic were found to be diseased. Scientists examined 125,000 corals across the Asia-Pacific region. At least 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year. Corals are not only home to a diverse range of life, but they are vital for at least 275 million people who depend on them for food, coastal protection from storms, and income from tourism. Plastic was found on a third of the reefs examined between 2011 and 2014. They did not assess microplastics... Diseases found include: skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease. These diseases spread across a colony once there is infection. Plastic cuts the living creatures in the coral, and blocks out sunlight. Plastic pollution is estimated as likely to increase to 16bn pieces by 2025 (an increase of 40%) unless action is taken. Repeated bleaching is now the ‘new normal’ according to Prof Terry Hughes of James Cook University’s centre for coral reef studies.

30th Nov 2017: (Damian Carrington): 10% more rubbish on beaches this year.

Marine Conservation Society annual beach clean found the increase. Much of the waste is plastic and MCS wants a charge on single –use items. About 12m tonnes of plastic litter enters the oceans every year, killing millions of marine animals.

Iceland and Co-op have said they will back a UK-wide bottle deposit return system and Natural History Museum will stop selling single-use plastic bottles to its 4.5million visitors each year.

Recycling rates in UK have fallen – last year to 44% according to Keep Britain Tidy. Only 57% of ottles are collected for recycling, compared to up to 90% in other countries where there is a deposit return scheme.

Most of the litter is small unidentifiable fagments, but 20% is packaging from food and drink. Tax on plastic bags led to a drop by 40% since 2014.


Sep 2017. Sea salt has microplastics in it: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt-around-world-contaminated-by-plastic-studies  The most common type of plastic they found was polyethylene terephthalate, the material used to make plastic bottles. The health impact of ingesting plastic is not known. Scientists have struggled to research the impact of plastic on the human body, because they cannot find a control group of humans who have not been exposed.