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Environment

Oct 30, 2018

Reaction: The European Single Use Plastic Ban

How big is the problem, and will this new legislation be as effective as we hope? We asked both those who know the oceans and those big corporations that produce the plastic.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

The Outdoor Journal’s mission is to “To educate and inspire all people to experience, enjoy and protect wilderness”. As such, our team from around the world greeted this news with applause. We reached out to our friends who spend their days in or on the oceans, and asked them for their reaction.

However, it’s important to also take a step back to ensure that we capture a thorough and rounded perspective. We have no idea whether the alternatives will do more harm that good, and what other knock on effects any changes might have. We therefore reached out to some of the biggest plastic producers from around the world for their comments too.

Photo: Pixabay | Adege

THE LEGISLATION

On Wednesday the 24th October, members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to enact a complete ban on single use plastics. Announced via a press release, the final count was 571 to 53, with 34 abstentions. However, before this new legislation is put into practice the European Parliament will discuss and negotiate specifics with the European Council of government ministers. We expect a final decision on the 16th December.

Single use plastics will include plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks or cotton buds, and make up over 70% of marine litter. In 2021, there are plans to widen the ban to include bags, packaging and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene. The consumption of several other items, for which no alternative exists, will have to be reduced by member states by least 25% by 2025.

Frédérique Ries

The Vice chair, Frédérique Ries from Belgium, said that “We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the Council, due to start as early as November. Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion Euros by 2030.”

CONTEXTUALISING THE SIZE OF THE PROBLEM

Tom de Dorlodot

Tom de Dorlodot: Professional Red Bull sponsored paragliding and paramotoring pilot, Founder of Search Projects, who now lives on the seas. We recently published an update to Tom and Sofia’s story in a recent article.

“It took time… but it’s finally here. The European Parliament just voted to ban single-use plastic by 2021. Even if that might not be enough, it’s amazing news.

People buy, use and throw away plastic everyday but they sometimes forget that there is no such things as “away”. This plastic will stay for hundreds of years on this planet that we call home.

In all my expeditions, I was sad to realize that plastic has reached all corners of the World. It travels with the wind or floats in the rivers, breaks into tiny pieces and gets into our food chain. The other day, I cleaned a fish whose stomach was full of plastic debris, I saw a sea turtle chewing on a plastic bag, thinking it was a jelly fish in the Azores and as I sailed across the seas I was depressed by the quantity of plastic that I saw floating on the surface.

Let’s take measure, let’s be responsible and let’s not forget that besides the new rules and regulations, the biggest difference we can make is by changing our consumer habits.”

Jorge Hauser

Jorge Hauser: The CEO Pelagic Fleet, Underwater photographer, award-winning film producer and ecotourism activist. The Outdoor Journal recently wrote about Jorge and his work.

“When it comes to dangers and threats to the ocean, people usually go to overfishing, which is a big issue, along with coral bleaching and acidification… but we usually tend to undermine the silent, invisible killer: plastic. The thing about plastic is that once used, there’s a very good chance it’ll end in the ocean. Once there, it’ll take it hundreds of years to disintegrate, and even when that happens, the micro-particles pollute fish and seabirds worsening their genetics generation after generation. I have encountered Chinese bottles of water in places as remote and as pristine as Guadalupe Island, and it breaks my heart. If every one of us would stop the consumption of single-use plastics, that would go a long way! Can you imagine an invention more idiotic than the straw? Me neither. Banning these plastics in Europe is a big step in protecting the oceans, and a giant leap for common sense.”

Marcus Eriksen

Marcus Eriksen: The founder of The 5 Gyres Institute, an organisation that empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure.

“The banning of single-use plastics is the kind of solution the world is looking for. By now, most people have heard about ocean plastics, and likely have heard dozens of solutions to solve the problem, but most are distractions from the long-term solutions that focus on prevention.

Marcus Eriksen

Over the last decade, the plastic pollution issue has tracked the same way other issues have evolved, like the hole in the ozone layer or smog over big cities. Those issues began as over-sensationalized hype fueling public outrage and driving plenty of funding to do science, eventually landing on policy to prevent the problem. Plastic pollution is no different. What began as outrage over fictitious islands of trash in the ocean, followed by an avalanche of new science, is now largely focused on policy to end the harm from single-use throwaway plastics. With this announcement from the European Parliament to ban single-use plastics, it is uplifting to see that real solutions have arrived.”

REACTION FROM THE PLASTIC PRODUCERS

Prior to the announcement of this new legislation we had already begun to see change, or at least the intention to implement change. At the start of the year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced that “Eleven leading brands, retailers, and packaging companies will work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier.” Together, these 11 companies represent more than 6 million tones of plastic packaging each year, whilst this is still just a drop in the ocean, it is a start.

One of these 11 companies included Mars Incorporated, who told The Outdoor Journal that “Our goal is to get our products to consumers using packaging with the lowest environmental impacts. We’ve made progress but still have work to do together with business, government and civil society. We’ve been a core partner to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative since 2016, and will continue collaborating as a signatory to the Global Commitment to drive further and faster efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Photo: Pixabay | giogio55

Given that the new single use plastic legislation only applies to the European Union, it’s important that this ruling is only considered to be a contributing element to the wider change that is required. Efforts still needs to be made by companies such as Mars, globally. There is also a UK Plastics Pact in action which could have great significance, given the looming Brexit plans. Should Brexit go ahead, then the UK would not need to abide by this new European legislation. This pact has 4 goals:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models
  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging

Sainsbury’s, a major UK based chain of supermarkets and member of the UK Plastics Pack, told The Outdoor Journal that they have already taken significant steps, that include:

  • Reducing Sainsbury’s branded packaging by 35% since 2005
  • Nearly 40% of packaging already uses recycled content
  • 83% of Sainsbury’s packaging volume that’s sold is classed as widely recycled

Another of the 11 global corporations who are working towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 include PepsiCo. When the Outdoor Journal asked Pepsico for comment, Paul Skehan, Senior Director, EU Public Policy & Government Affairs, shared similar goals to their contemporaries with the same politically correct responses. However, Paul also shared valid concerns: “We have some concerns about specifics outlined in the directive, for example regarding tethering caps to bottles, which industry experts suggest will result in more plastic usage rather than less. We believe there needs to be more focus on improving waste collection and increasing recycling rates which are central issues to addressing the challenges of plastic waste. While we hope this may still be taken into consideration, we will continue to work with partners such as the New Plastics Economy to further these critical areas. We know that to truly achieve a sustainable change in reducing plastic waste requires a collaborative effort with many different groups in society.”

Paul Skehan raises a key point, whilst we all have the right goals in mind and there is clearly a desire to save our oceans, it’s important that the alternative solutions are viable, and do not contribute to the problem in other ways. For example, will a bigger sacrifice be required to produce an alternative material?

Elsewhere, there was further rhetoric, such as British Airways, who told The Outdoor Journal that “We support any initiative that will potentially reduce the use of Single Use Plastics and we are working with our industry association, IATA, to liaise with the EU to understand how we can practically achieve this in our sector”.

Whilst the European ban on single use plastics represents a great step forward, greater research and time needs to be invested into making sure that alternative measures are viable and will effectively contribute to reaching long term goals. The good news is that there now appears to be a global conversation, and perhaps even consensus to ensure change, in one the places that it’s needed most.

The Outdoor Journal also reached out to Starbucks, Proctor and Gamble, Costa Coffee, Aldi, SAS, McDonalds, Burger King, Lufthansa, Virgin Airways, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unliever, but they all refused the opportunity to comment.

Cover Photo: Jedimentat44

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Environment

Nov 11, 2018

Update: Following a Wave of Protests, China Postpones Lifting the Ban on the Use of Tiger and Rhino Parts

The use of rhino horn and tiger bone for medicinal uses was to be permitted again, which would have had a large impact on tiger and rhino endangerment.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

UPDATE

Since this article was published, China has postponed the ban being lifted. This decision has come in the face of international outcry, and in a statement China has said that they are “dedicated to the cause of wildlife protection”.

State Council Executive Deputy Secretary-General Ding Xuedong, did not explain for how long the ban would continue, but that the “three strict bans” will continue to be enforced: strictly ban the import and export of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts; strictly ban the sale, purchase, transport, carrying and mailing of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts; and strictly ban the use of rhino horns and tiger bones in medicine.

The WWF has responded, explaining that they “welcome the news that China has postponed lifting its ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn and tiger bone, signalling a positive response to international reaction. Allowing trade from even captive animals could have had devastating impacts on wild rhino and tiger populations. This move helps maintain the leadership role China has taken in tackling the illegal wildlife trade and reducing market demand.”

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

“All five of the world’s diverse species of rhinoceros have been brought to the edge of extinction because of human appetite for their distinctive horns” says PBS Nature.

On October 29th, China released a statement allowing the trade of tiger and rhino products. According to Leigh Henry, the wildlife policy director at the World Wildlife Fund, “This new regulation replaces the outright ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade which has been in place since 1993.”

Mother and young rhinoceros killed for their horns. Taken at private game farm in Gauteng, South Africa. Photo: Hein waschefort

The ban was originally put into place as a way to mitigate the rhino and tiger poaching crisis, which was contributing to the endangered status of both animals. With fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers left in the wild, the possibility of those species going extinct is unfortunately, extremely high. According to Dr Jo Shaw, A Programme Officer with TRAFFIC, “A decade ago the first signs were on the horizon of the forthcoming rhino poaching crisis, but few then could have foreseen the magnitude and ramifications of what we face today. However, with the surging demand from Asia, people willing to pay high prices to get their hands on rhino horn, and little fear of capture by those smuggling horn, it was perhaps inevitable that this ‘commodity’ would catch the attention of the hardened criminal fraternity, creating a ‘perfect storm’ for rhino poaching and horn trade.”

“taken daily to keep illness at bay and restore vital energy rather than to treat specific symptoms”

Tiger bone and rhino horn have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as healing agents for the past 3,000 years. Tigers and rhinos are thought to have strong energy, which if used medicinally, will give strength and energy to the person receiving the medicine. According to Dr. Rebecca Drury of Flora and Fauna International, “In order to understand consumption of many traditional tonics, one also needs to understand more about Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine. For example, these tend to be taken daily to keep illness at bay and restore vital energy rather than to treat specific symptoms, and wild-derived animals are considered to have stronger vital energy.”

Despite tiger and rhino bone being used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the past 3,000 years, scientists today say there is no actual proven healing benefit from the products. PBS Nature says, “Overall there isn’t much evidence to support the plethora of claims about the healing properties of the (rhino) horns. In 1990, researchers at Chinese University in Hong Kong found that large doses of rhino horn extract could slightly lower fever in rats (as could extracts from Saiga antelope and water buffalo horn), but the concentration of horn given by a traditional Chinese medicine specialist are many many times lower than used in those experiments. In short, says Amin, you’d do just as well chewing on your fingernails.”

According to Leigh Henry with the World Wildlife Fund, “Tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the official pharmacopoeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine after the 1993 ban on trade in these products was put in place. In 2010, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, originating more than 3,000 years ago, includes an emphasis on the importance of being in balance with nature, as this balance contributes to our health and well-being. It is in this spirit that many TCM practitioners no longer endorse the use of rhino horn or tiger parts.

Rhino horn in packaging horns, seized by UK Border Agency. Photo: UK Home Office

Despite the lack of scientifically-proven medical benefits, tiger bone and rhino horns are still highly valued around the world. TRAFFIC reports “at least 65 rhino horns have been stolen from public display within South Africa with similar thefts carried out in the US and in Europe.”

6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

In a statement released by the World Wildlife Fund, “The new regulations say hospitals can obtain parts from captive facilities within China—excluding zoos—where tigers and rhinos are bred for commercial purposes. Experts estimate that more than 6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

These “tiger farms” that the WWF refers to are legal farms in China that raise tigers for legal commercial sale of their skins. “The trade in tiger and rhino parts and products was prohibited in China. However, there was an exemption for tiger skins and their products obtained from legal sources, including from captive breeding, if permitted by the government, legally registered and accompanied by a certificate.” These legal farms are now permitted to sell and trade tiger bones as well as skins.

“this move risks causing confusion among consumers as to what products are legal or illegal”

The World Wildlife Fund is worried that China’s declaration allowing the use of tiger bone and rhino horn will spur a rise in poaching. “It is WWF’s position that the movement of tiger products from tiger farms into the marketplace (through legal or illegal channels) negatively impacts enforcement efforts directed against those who trade in tigers poached from the wild. This is of great concern given that poaching remains the greatest threat to conservation of the species at this time. The same concern exists regarding rhino horn trade and impact on conservation of rhinos in the wild. Equally, this move risks causing confusion among consumers as to what products are legal or illegal and could expand the markets/demand for these products, which have thus far been in slow decline thanks, in large part, to the 1993 ban.”

The World Wildlife Fund is clear on their stance with this issue. “The unfortunate reality is that tiger farms in China have been growing in size for some time now, posing an increasing threat to tigers in the wild. This decision is a move in the opposite direction from where we believe China should go; maintaining the 1993 ban and setting a clear plan and timeline to close existing captive tiger breeding facilities used for commercial purposes.”

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