Plastic Free Awards launched to celebrate environmental heroes fighting plastic pollution

Marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage and the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation (IFCF) have confirmed plans to host a national awards ceremony celebrating the thousands of campaigners backing their fight against plastic pollution and production.

The new Plastic Free Awards are set to be held in November this year, to recognise the work of those who involved in the movement to free where we live from single-use plastic.

Entries are now open and can be made through the Plastic Free Awards website:

Activists from all walks of life will be acknowledged, including young campaigners, community leaders, small businesses, charities, designers, entrepreneurs, sports clubs and schools with a shared mission of eliminating avoidable plastics from our world.

Writer, broadcaster and Plastic Free Awards judge Lucy Siegle said:

“Communities and individuals continue to lead the charge on plastics, saying no to unnecessary use that commits us to 500 years of hazardous waste. Unfortunately for policy makers, it is clear that this energy and focus from people across the UK will not stop until the problem is solved.

“But the activists (and that’s what they are, even if some never expected to be!) from cafe owners and teachers to school kids and adventurers use their agency to think beyond the plastic pandemic. They’ve swept up progressive businesses and organisations with their enthusiasm, so we’ve decided to celebrate the very best. Credit where credit is due!”

Iceland Foods Managing Director, IFCF Trustee and Plastic Free Awards judge Richard Walker said:

“We are delighted to support these awards to highlight the great work that is being done by so many to tackle the scourge of single-use plastic, and I am very much look forward to judging the entries and helping to select some truly outstanding winners. You have got to be in it to win it, so I urge everyone to think of individuals and organisations who are going above and beyond in this fight, and enter them for these awards.”

Broadcaster and Plastic Free Awards judge Gillian Burke said:

“The tide is slowly turning in the fight against plastic pollution and now more than ever, we need to be  empowered to help kick our single-use plastic habit.  Celebrating the heroic efforts of campaigners, volunteers and communities who have stepped up to the challenge is one way to inspire us all into being the change we’d like to see.”

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage and Awards judge said:

“We’re thrilled to launch the Plastic Free Awards to recognise the heroes leading the charge to reinvent our relationship with plastic, protect our ocean and drive sustainable innovation across communities. We have seen an inspirational wave of action to tackle plastic pollution and excessive packaging over the last two years – change is truly happening. The Plastic Free Awards will help shine a spotlight on the mavens and mavericks creating the changes to stop the flow of plastic into our world.”


Split across 11 categories and spanning various areas of plastic-free living and leadership, the awards are being hosted in partnership with the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation (IFCF).

There will also be one additional overall winner selected to win the inaugural Sir Malcolm Walker Award for outstanding action on plastics pollution and environmental commitment.

Award categories include:

  • Best Plastic Campaign – The best campaign you’ve seen to raise awareness of and tackle plastic pollution (can include entries from NGOs, broadcasters, magazines, campaigners, CICs, marketing/PR companies and businesses)
  • Plastic-Free Hero – The person who has inspired the UK to tackle plastic pollution and change the way we view single-use plastics
  • Youth Plastic Pioneer – The under 16 who is taking radical action on plastic pollution and taking the nation by storm
  • Sports Champion – Award for the local sports club leading the charge on plastics – whether a community football club, surf life-saving club or a Premier League star that is changing attitudes towards single-use plastics in the sector
  • Plastic-Free Community – The strongest Plastic Free Community in the UK, most successful in uniting to reduce the use of plastic
  • Plastic Product Re-Innovation – Celebrating plastic-free innovation, whether as an inventor, business, entrepreneur, designer or big thinker
  • Reduce & Reuse Award– The best innovative new system helping us reduce our plastic footprint
  • Small Business Award – Refill stores, greengrocers, iron mongers, butchers, bakers – the business doing a brilliant job of freeing your high street from single-use plastics
  • Plastic-Free Venues & Events – Cafes, music venues, festivals and stadia are all getting involved with eliminating plastics, whether it’s a local deposit return schemes on cups to a straw-free festival
  • Schools Champion – The Plastic Free Schools movement is growing fast, but which school is passing this exam with flying colours? Nominate the school or student getting straight A’s on plastic action
  • Sir Malcom Walker Award – The overall winner and biggest influencer on plastics since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet

There are no barriers for who can be nominated – you can enter a friend, a colleague, a family member or someone from your community, as well any charities, schools, businesses or events that have made a significant impact on fighting plastic in your community. They don’t have to be directly involved in the Plastic Free Communities initiative but must have made a significant impact on fighting plastic.

Each entrant will then be judged by a panel of esteemed judges and those nominated invited to attend the awards event in November this year.

Entries are now open and can be made through the Plastic Free Awards website,


For more information about the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation and the many good causes it has supported over the years, please go to

Article written on behalf of SAS by Hazel Murray

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New California Bill Could Revolutionize How the U.S. Tackles Plastic Pollution

A sweeping “circular economy” bill in the California legislature aims to drastically reduce plastic waste and boost domestic recycling.


The ubiquity of plastic in our lives is leaving a mark — on the geologic record, in remote regions of the Earth, in the bodies of 90 percent of seabirds. Our oceans are a toxic soup, swirling with an estimated 50 million tons of plastic waste. But the tide is changing.

Mounting global pressure to curb plastic pollution is gaining steam. A significant leap came last year with the European Union’s vote to ban single-use plastic items by 2021 and boost bottle recycling 90 percent by 2025. On June 10 Canada announced it would follow Europe’s lead.

In the United States, efforts to reduce plastic waste have so far been piecemeal — bans on specific items, like plastic bags, and only in certain municipalities. But California could help the country take a massive leap forward.

At the end of May, the California Senate passed S.B. 54, the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, introduced by Senator Ben Allen and modeled after the European effort. A day later, the state’s assembly passed identical legislation, A.B. 1080, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. If the bills clear opposite houses and earn the governor’s signature, it will be groundbreaking.

“We haven’t seen anything like this elsewhere in the U.S.,” says Angela Howe, legal director of Surfrider, a nonprofit devoted to clean oceans and beaches, which is part of a coalition of organizations working in support of the legislation and reducing plastic pollution.

The focus of the legislation is on producer responsibility — both reducing the amount of waste generated and making sure what is absolutely necessary is either compostable or recyclable. On average only 9 percent of plastics are recycled in the United States, and that already-modest number is expected to decrease even further as more countries follow China’s lead in closing their doors to waste exports from the United States and elsewhere.

Plastic isn’t just washing up on beaches, it’s piling up at landfills, making the crisis in the country even more urgent and expensive.


plastic marine litter

Plastic washes ashore with other marine litter. (Photo by Bo Eide, public domain)


As written now the legislation would require manufacturers and retailers in California to reduce the waste generated by single-use packaging and products by 75 percent by 2030 through producing less plastic, recycling more of it, making reusable packaging, or using compostable materials. It would also set guidelines for manufacturers of single-use plastic packaging and products that would ensure that 20 percent of their products are recycled by 2024, 40 percent by 2028, and 75 percent by 2030.

“The single-use plastic crisis is so pervasive that we’re seeing microplastics in the tiniest plankton to the largest whales,” says Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Pacific policy and communications manager at Oceana, which is helping to support the legislation. “It just drives home the message that we can’t recycle our way out of this crisis. We need really strong, bold and timely action now and we don’t have any more time to wait to address the issue.”

Previous efforts to tackle banning or restricting items like foam food containers, plastic bags and plastic straws has been tantamount to winning battles but not winning the war, says Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns for the Story of Stuff, which is producing a film about the global fight against plastic pollution and is a leading coalition partner supporting the legislation.

“If we’re going to fix the system, we have to actually take a systemic approach,” he says.

He admits that regulating the materials economy isn’t as easy as a simple message like banning bags, but it’s the only effective way to tackle the problem.

One of the biggest issues is that there’s simply too much plastic, which is why the bill has an emphasis on source reduction, he says.

“We have to get to a manageable supply to be able to create a reasonable demand,” says Wilson. “Once that lever gets pulled where there is a statutory obligation on a supply chain, all of a sudden you will see investment in that supply chain to meet that demand.”

And that, advocates of the legislation say, should spur investment domestic recycling, build green jobs, and enable companies to develop alternative delivery systems for products meant to create reusability instead of disposability.

The potential benefits would be far-reaching — aiding not just oceans, but wildlife and human health, as well as economies, says Blacow-Draeger.

“It’s shocking how expensive it is for cities and counties to remediate all the single-use plastics waste that is being produced,” she says. “The hope with these pieces of legislation is that they will actually lessen the burden on municipalities and on ratepayers by not producing as much waste to have to process in the future.”

For many industries it would also be a big change.

“It wouldn’t just be the one major plastic bag manufacturer that’s affected,” says Howe. “It’s everything from grocery stores to the natural gas plants that make plastics to retailers and manufacturers.”

Proponents of the legislation say they anticipate pushback from these industries as the bills go through committee in the opposite houses over the next few months. The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) didn’t return a request for comment, but an industry publication, Plastics Todayreported that the association was urging legislators to vote against the bills: “PLASTICS notes that it has attempted to work with the bills’ sponsors ‘to try and redirect the bills toward policies that are proven to reduce litter and increase diversion rates. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to have the bills amended to a point where we can support them,’” according to the publication.

Wilson says that the comprehensive nature of the legislation is the only way to effectively reduce plastic pollution, and with California being the fifth biggest economy in the world, the impact of this legislation is likely to be felt in other states.

“I think it’s fair to say that we have a history of seeing manufacturers conform to California laws,” he says. “We saw it with auto emissions — it’s a big enough market that it should spur change across the industry.”

For that ripple effect to happen, California first needs to pass its landmark legislation.

The bills will now need to clear the natural resources and appropriations committees in the opposite houses of their origin before having a chance at a floor vote by Sept. 13. If they pass those hurdles and earn the governor’s signature, the legislation would set a high bar for other states.

“I think it is a line in the sand that essentially says if we don’t take this approach, we don’t solve the problem,” says Wilson. “It’s not only trying to solve a problem, it’s trying to shift the narrative on how you solve the problem. This is actually an expression of the world we want and one we think that can work, and absent that, we’re a dog chasing its tail.”

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Plastic Free Schools Programme Reaches 1,000 Schools Across The UK

Lingey House Primary School Taking Action

Lingey House Primary School taking action


In a landmark moment, we are thrilled to reveal that 1,000 schools across the UK are now taking the fight against plastic pollution straight to their communities.

The achievement is a significant milestone for Surfers Against Sewage, as it shows just how many young people across the UK want to make a real difference to the future of our beaches and marine wildlife – starting from their very own villages, towns and cities.

The Plastic Free Schools programme, designed by our charity to help students understand the issues of plastic consumption and take action, has been whole-heartedly embraced by teachers and pupils since its inception in 2017.

Led by the students themselves, it guides schools in the UK through the process of ditching single-use plastic – from conducting a litter audit of the school, to challenging government and industry and removing single-use plastic items from the site for good.

On achieving this goal, each school is then granted ‘Plastic Free’ status.

So far, we have seen some amazing results, with students making big changes within their school environment for generations to come.

Among them, successes include removing individual milk cartons, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic cups, condiment sachets, glitter, laminated paper, plastic plates and cutlery, single-use plastic food containers and plastic bags.

Crwys Primary School With Their Reusable Bottles

Crwys Primary School with their reusable bottles


A spokesperson for Velmead School, in Hampshire, said:

“Plastic Free Schools has been a great initiative for our ‘Rangers’ team to follow. The steps are practical and achievable and have really helped to guide us through the mission of ridding our school of single-use plastics. As a result of this, we now have an almost completely single-use plastic free kitchen.”

And they’re not the only ones.

Other schools, like Upton House School in Berkshire, have pledged to remove one item of single-use plastic a month from their site, until they can do no more.

A spokesperson for Ripley Court School, in Surrey, added:

“We have absolutely loved working towards our Plastic Free Status. It has really inspired us as a school to do so much. It has had such a positive impact on the children, parents and the staff.”

Ripley Court School

Ripley Court School heading out for a clean-up


In order to complete the programme and land Plastic Free Status, schools must follow a series of objectives:

  1. Form a Plastic Free Action Group
  2. Conduct a ‘Trash Mob’ – a quick fire, high energy school clean up
  3. Challenge government by contacting their local MP
  4. Challenge the industries who’s packaging ends up as pollution
  5. Remove at least three single-use plastic items from the school and commit to reducing individual single-use plastic consumption.

To get your school involved, head to the Plastic Free Schools section of our website

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UK MPs sign pledge to protect ocean for generations to come


A growing number of MPs from across the UK are joining the fight to save the ocean as part of a new campaign led by Surfers Against Sewage.

Hugo Tagholm, Jaz Strzelecki, Steve Double MP, Dr Alice Roberts and Geraint Davies MP, pledging to protect the ocean at the Ocean Conservation APPG reception. Photo: Geoff Crawford.

The #GenerationSea movement was launched earlier this year, in a bid to unite people to protect the sea – from business owners, parents and teachers to school kids, carers, surfers and more.

Now, over 50 MPs have signed a pledge to show their support, vowing to stop plastic pollution, act fast to tackle the climate crisis, prevent sewage from creeping back into our seas and support protections for sea life to flourish. This is after thousands of SAS supporters have been writing to their MP demanding urgent action.

Tell your MP to protect the ocean and sign the #GenerationSea pledge today 

It follows a reception at Parliament on World Environment Day (5th June) which saw MPs stepping forward to sign a dedicated SAS surfboard, with those among the signatures including Chair of the Ocean Conservation APPG, Steve Double MP, vice chairs Geraint Davies MP and Kerry McCarthy MP, Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman MP and parliamnetarians from all parties across the UK.

The charity is now urging more MPs to step forward and sign their pledge, as the proposed Environment Bill post-Brexit is put into place – describing it as the opportunity of a generation.

As part of the campaign, SAS says it wants to see more powerful laws implemented and an independent environment watchdog created to protect the seas and enforce targets for Government and big business.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage said

“The ocean emergency is now. The climate emergency is upon us. The plastic pollution crisis is real.”

“Citizens from across the UK are joining our #GenerationSea campaign, contacting MPs to demand faster and tougher action to protect our ocean.”

“The latest UK Marine Strategy shows we have a great deal to do. As of May 2019 the UK has met just four out of 15 indicators required for healthy oceans. This is a wake-up call. Parliament needs to use its powers to prevent further environmental damage and ensure we improve our natural world for everyone and everything to enjoy.

That’s why we have been asking our the public to encourage MPs to support faster action on global heating, plastic pollution and ensuring protected areas of our ocean are truly protected for life to flourish once again

Dozens of politicians have already committed to support action to deliver a thriving ocean. We now urge all MPs to take our pledge. Together we must protect and restore our ocean. The time for action is now.”

Within the #GenerationSea campaign, thousands of members of the public have already signed and added their names to the petition to urge the Government to take stronger action.

And with more than 1200 schools around the country going plastic-free in the last year alone, as well as hundreds of communities landing ‘Plastic Free Community’ status, the support demonstrates the public’s dedication to protecting the environment on a local level.

The growing list of pledges also comes just days after SAS took its ‘unknown sea creature’ to Parliament, along with a team of campaigners, to send a powerful message to Government that ocean life is choking on plastic and dying from global heating.

The 15ft ‘creature’ recently featured in one of the charity’s campaign films, which was watched by more than a quarter of a million people and brought to life the unprecedented effects human action is having on the world’s oceans – even on species yet to be discovered.

The fight isn’t over, though, and, with your help, MPs can still pledge to show their support to the #GenerationSea campaign.

To encourage your MP to pledge, visit our website and sign your name here, where you can also see the MPs already taking action.

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Southeast Asia Doesn’t Want to Be the World’s Dumping Ground. Here’s How Some Countries Are Pushing Back

The global trash trade has reached a turning point; wealthier nations have long shipped their plastic waste to the developing world to be processed, but in recent months, some nations in Southeast Asia have begun sending the exports — much of it contaminated plastic and trash that is unrecyclable — back to where it came from.

The pushback comes as containers of trash continue to accumulate on the shores of countries like Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, which are increasingly worried that the environmental costs are greater than the income they bring in from importing the waste.

Southeast Asia has not always been the world’s dumping ground. For decades, China was the world’s biggest importer of scrap plastic, taking in millions of tonnes of plastic waste as raw materials from countries like the U.S. and the U.K. to fuel a growing manufacturing sector. China imported close to half of the world’s global plastic waste, reaching a peak of nine million tonnes in 2012, according to environmental organization Greenpeace.

But severe pollution as a result of poorly managed waste processes led to a country-wide import ban in January 2018, effectively barring China from receiving the plastic waste it had bought so much of in the past.

The legislation caused a significant shake-up in the global garbage trade. “There was a mass scramble for alternative destinations for waste coming from mainly industrialized countries,” Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of nonprofit Break Free From Plastic, told TIME.

Whose garbage is it?

The garbage is exported from around a dozen developed countries including the U.S., Canada, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and the U.K., according to Greenpeace.

According to the BBC, the European Union is the world’s biggest exporter of plastic waste, while the U.S. is the largest single-country source.

“Richer countries are taking advantage of the looser regulations in poorer countries,” Lea Guerrero, Country Director for Greenpeace Philippines, told TIME. “They export the trash here because it’s more expensive for them to process the mixed, contaminated waste themselves back home due to the tighter laws.”

Where did it go?

Without China to ferry their waste off to, the developing world has taken to exporting their trash to countries in Southeast Asia, where some have lax environmental regulations that make it easier to dispose of the garbage.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia picked up a lot of the slack, with Malaysia emerging as the number one importer. Home to a significant Chinese-speaking population, Malaysia was a logical choice for Chinese recyclers looking to relocate, according to the South China Morning Post.

The country’s imports rose five-fold to about 110,000 tons per month following China’s ban, according to Greenpeace. The three largest exporters to the country in the first half of 2018 were the U.S., Japan and the U.K.

In the Philippines, waste imports almost tripled to 11,900 tons from 2016 to 2018, according to official figures cited in Philippines news site Rappler. But Guerrero, of Greenpeace Philippines, said the official figures represent “the tip of the iceberg.”

“The real number is likely higher than what is published,” Guerrero said. “With so many ports of entry, we lack the capacity to monitor exactly what comes in.”

Other countries in the region also saw a spike. Thailand’s imports increased by almost 2,000%, while Vietnam similarly saw a noteworthy rise, according to Greenpeace’s environmental news site Unearthed.

“Rich industrialized countries that have the resources to deal with these materials in a responsible way have outsourced the disposal to countries that are less capable,” Hernandez said.

Who’s pushing back?

Since imports spiked last year, countries including Malaysia and the Philippines have already begun sending unwanted trash back to its source, while others are rethinking their policies.

In January, the Philippines sent back 51 containers of mixed waste to South Korea, including plastic and other materials that were misdeclared, six months after it arrived in a southern port. Officials in Seoul said the country would take back the trash and shoulder the shipment costs.

In April, Malaysia became the second country to push back when it returned five containers to Spain, CNN reported. Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said it would continue to send waste back, with plans to ship more than 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste to the countries that exported them. Specifically, she said 100 tonnes of the waste would be sent back to Australia, the Guardian reports, including plastic bottles that she said were “full of maggots.”

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Tokyo in late May, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called the trade “grossly unfair,” according to the Associated Press. “We don’t need your waste because our own waste is enough to give us problems,” he said.

And on Friday, the Philippines made good on its previous threat to send trash back to Canada as a cargo ship loaded with 69 containers of garbage left the Manila for Vancouver, escalating a diplomatic row between the two countries. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said that Canada missed a deadline to take back the trash it shipped to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014, and threatened to dump it in Canada’s waters if the country refused. Canada reportedly said it would take back the trash, exported as part of a commercial agreement and without government permission, but that it needed more time.

But the damage has been done, Guerrero said. Almost a third of the garbage sent to the Philippines from Canada could not be sent back as the trash had already leaked and been dumped into landfills.

Both Malaysia and Vietnam have attempted to restrict imports by suspendingthe issue of licenses, according to Reuters. The Thai government has also ordered the temporary prohibition of plastic waste, according to Greenpeace.

How is this impacting the environment?

The accumulation of plastic along the countries’ shores pose significant threat to the environment and livelihoods of local communities.

“The plastic waste is burying agricultural communities, literally transforming what used to be pristine environments into toxic dumpsites,” said Hernandez, of Break Free From Plastic.

Because a significant percentage of the imports are mixed municipal waste that cannot be recycled, most end up illegally incinerated on roadsides and dumped in unregulated landfills, where they release highly poisonous fumes.

According to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), bodies of water in the worst affected villages have registered dangerous levels of zinc, iron and lead. Entire crop fields have also been wiped out, posing threat to local livelihoods.

In response, environmental groups are putting increased pressure on governments to clamp down on imports and sign the Basel Ban Amendment, an extension of a U.N. treaty known as the Basel Convention.

The amendment, which is not yet in force, would prohibit developed nations from exporting hazardous waste to developing nations. Philippines and Vietnam are not signatories.

In the meantime, developed countries continue to export their trash.

“Richer nations are shipping their problems down here so they can take advantage of the poor environmental standards,” Guerrero said. “It’s deplorable.”

Article originally posted in Time.

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Canary Wharf Crowned the World’s first Plastic Free Communities Approved Commercial Centre

Canary Wharf Group has become the world’s first Commercial Centre to be awarded Plastic Free Communities Approved status by Surfers Against Sewage. The group has been working across all levels to start reducing the impact of single-use avoidable plastic as part of its #BreakingThePlasticHabit campaign, demonstrating global business leadership and a commitment to protecting our oceans.

Canary Wharf stretches across 16.5million sq. ft. of London real estate and became the first Commercial Centre to sign up to Plastic Free Communities in June 2018. In joining this nationwide movement Canary Wharf Group sent a strong message that urban and business communities play a vital role in tackling avoidable, single-use plastic and reducing the harm it does to our rivers and oceans.

Fast forward to June 2019 and not only has the district become the world’s first Commercial Centre to achieve Plastic Free Communities Approved status, it is also the first of dozens of communities in London who are now working on the SAS Community Toolkit, to achieve the accolade.

37 businesses within the centre have eliminated at least three single-use plastic items, and regular workshops help them and others identify further steps they can take. Refill and re-use schemes have been introduced including the UK’s first Reverse Vending Machine for bottles and cans, and the ‘Helpful’ mobile phone app which rewards consumers every time they re-use a bottle, coffee cup, bag or food container/cutlery. Dedicated coffee cup bins have increased recycling, water refill points are available and a plastic-free food court is now on-site. A Seabin has even been installed, to highlight the impact of throwaway plastic on the River Thames, and ultimately the ocean.

This is how it looks in numbers:

  • Over 2 million items of avoidable single-use plastic have been eliminated
  • Over 4 million coffee cups have been recycled. If you stand these cups side by side they would stretch from London to Durham
  • Removal of over 1 million plastic straws with 83 retailers on the Estate removing plastic straws entirely
  • Over 100,000 water bottles have been reused across the seven water refill stations
  • Over 19,000 bottles recycled using the Return Vending machine
  • The new Sea Bin collects 30kg of plastic a month from the waterways at Canary Wharf

Raising awareness has been an important part of the Group’s work and as well as regular consumer events, there have been a host of business briefings involving some of the world’s leading companies. Community links have been forged with local schools and nurseries and the Group is aiming to support community cleans and local Surfers Against Sewage reps, as it works to build on its journey to reduce single-use plastic.

Canary Wharf is one of the largest of the UK wide communities to achieve the Plastic Free Communities Approved status. The Group says it is now looking forward to working with other organisations at Canary Wharf to build on this initial groundwork and to work towards fully freeing its community from single-use plastics.

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “I’m delighted that Canary Wharf has achieved our Plastic Free Communities status, working to eliminate avoidable single-use plastics. This is the world’s first commercial centre to achieve our status, demonstrating their leadership, commitment and ongoing journey to reduce the use of avoidable single-use plastics across the estate. London is an ocean city, with the tidal Thames running through its heart, and Surfers Against Sewage is delighted to see ocean activism taking hold within such a globally renowned business centre overlooking this iconic river. Tackling plastic pollution is vital from source to sea, and business leadership will help us all reinvent our relationship with plastic.”

Sir George Iacobescu, Chairman and Chief Executive, Canary Wharf Group, said: “Canary Wharf’s Breaking The Plastic Habit programme is part of our long term commitment to deliver a future that’s truly sustainable at Canary Wharf. Our programme is designed to act as a blueprint for behavioural change and prompt wider action towards a single-use plastic-free future. It is our hope that this forms part of Canary Wharf’s legacy for a sustainable city in which we transform our community and spark a wider, long-term change for the better; not just for now but for future generations.”

There are now 30 registered Plastic Free Communities in London, joining another 500+ across the UK who are working to free where they live from single-use plastic. Community leads work to the same five-point toolkit as Canary Wharf and an array of refill and reuse projects are emerging from this grassroots movement. Communities aren’t aiming to eliminate all plastic from their lives … they work to tackle our addiction to throwaway plastic and help change the system that produces it, one plastic bottle at a time.

Find out more and sign up to lead your community here

Get full details of Canary Wharf’s Breaking the Plastic Habit here

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The Deadliest Fraud of Our Time-Plastic Cigarette Filters

According to a report by Ocean Conservancy, the top 10 marine litters of the 2018 ICC were, for the first time, all made from plastic [1]. And cigarette butts (smoked cigarette filters) are number 1 on the list.

Most people, even regular smokers, think cigarette filters are made from cotton. That’s perhaps the reason why most smokers throw away cigarette butts on the street, or even in the sewers. In fact, most modern cigarette filters are made from “Cellulose Acetate”, a form of plastic that takes 12 years to fully degrade in nature. And during the degradation process, average 12,000 Cellulose Acetate microfibers in a single cigarette filter contribute to the “plastic microfibers problem”–they absorb hydrophobic organic pollutants in the waterways and being consumed by the planktons which constitute the bottom of the marine food chain.

Before the 1950’s, only 0.5% of all cigarettes on the market have filters, and the purpose of the filters was not to retain toxic chemicals–“Moist lips are thrilling lips! Keep them soft, alluring.” So proclaimed a 1936 ad for a novelty cigarette, designed for women. At the time, almost all cigarettes were unfiltered. Companies sometimes added special mouthpieces — called beauty tips, often made of cork — for women. After all, what seductress would want to be seen picking tobacco flecks off her tongue? [2]


It was only later in the 1950’s, when E. Cuyler Hammond, Ph.D., and Daniel Horn, Ph.D. confirmed the cause and effect relationship of smoking and lung cancer in an August 7, 1954 “Journal of the American Medical Association” article [3]. Since then, more and more tobacco companies added “filters” to their cigarettes; and until 1975, about 90% of the boxed cigarettes contained filters made from the plastic “Cellulose Acetate”. However the filters only offer psychological comforts to smokers–the plastic filters only retain about 2% of all chemicals from a burning cigarette. And not only smoked cigarette filters, even unsmoked cigarette filters are toxic to marine lives [4]. Therefore as a scientist said: “cigarette filters are the deadliest fraud in our time”.

Not only the ineffectiveness on cancer prevention of the “Cellulose Acetate” filters, what’s more concerning is how people take cigarette butts for granted, thinking they are natural material and throw them all over the place–it can be the most abundant plastic litters on the street with few people realizing it, and now the number one of all marine litters.

Since May the 4th 2019, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association Taiwan has weekly campaigns on the streets advocating that cigarette butts are plastic. And not only do we ask smokers to throw the cigarette butts in the proper bins, we also aim to ask international tobacco industries to phase out plastic filters. In a brand audit of 2186 cigarette butts gathered in the streets of Taipei, we found about 40% of the litters are products of “Japan Tobacco International”, followed by “Philip Morris International”, “Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company” and “British American Tobacco International”. Our ultimate goal is to stop all tobacco industries using plastic material for cigarette filters. After all, the ultimate measure is to stop it at the source. Cigarette butts are now the number one plastic litters in the coastline and on the streets, and they also belong to “single-use plastics”. We have to take this issue seriously in order to “Break Free From Plastic”.

Xavier Sun,
Zero Waste Campaigner,
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Taiwan


GAIA East Asia Regional Advisory Committee Member





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Treated like trash: south-east Asia vows to return mountains of rubbish from west

For the past year, the waste of the world has been gathering on the shores of south-east Asia. Crates of unwanted rubbish from the west have accumulated in the ports of the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam while vast toxic wastelands of plastics imported from Europe and the US have built up across Malaysia.

But not for much longer it seems. A pushback is beginning, as nations across south-east Asia vow to send the garbage back to where it came from.

Last week the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Canada if the government did not agree to take back 69 containers containing 1,500 tonnes of waste that had been exported to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.

Canada had refused to even acknowledge the issue for years but as the dispute escalated, Duterte declared that if the government did not act quickly, the Philippines would tow the rubbish to Canadian waters and dump it there.

“The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by a foreign nation,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.

The rhetoric was symptomatic of a wider regional pushback that began last year when Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam all introduced legislation to prevent contaminated foreign waste coming into their ports.

On 23 April a Malaysian government investigation revealed that waste from the UK, Australia, United States and Germany was pouring into the country illegally, falsely declared as other imports.

Enough was enough, said Yeo Bee Yin, the environment minister. “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.”

She has been as good as her word. Five containers of illegal rubbish from Spain discovered at a Malaysian port have just been sent back and on Tuesday Yeo announced that 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported plastic waste from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, France and Canada would be returned imminently.

Many believe this is the only way that countries, mainly in the west, will finally be forced to confront their own waste problems, rather than burdening developing countries.

Only 9% of the world’s plastics are recycled, with the rest mostly ending up rotting in landfills across south-east Asia or illegally incinerated, releasing highly poisonous fumes. Campaigners in Indonesia found last year that illegal rubbish imports were being used as furnace fuel in a tofu factory.

“It is the right move by the Malaysian government, to show to the world that we are serious in protecting our borders from becoming a dumping ground,” said Mageswari Sangaralingam, research officer at Consumers Association of Penang and Friends of the Earth Malaysia. She said significant amounts of plastic waste coming into Malaysia was contaminated, mixed and low grade” which meant it could not be processed and has ended up in vast toxic waste dumps.

An environmental injustice

The problem began for south-east Asia in early 2018 after China stopped accepting plastic waste and recycling from the rest of the world due to environmental concerns. The outright ban was problematic: in 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of plastic, paper and metals, including enough rubbish from the UK to fill 10,000 olympic swimming pools.

A woman holds a portrait of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a protest outside the Canadian Embassy

A woman holds a portrait of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a protest outside the Canadian Embassy Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

In the wake of China’s ban, private corporations handling waste for national governments began scrambling for other countries to bear the burden. With most of the rubbish channelled through Hong Kong, south-east Asia, which was nearby and had lax regulation, became an attractive alternative destination for the rubbish.

Malaysia has borne the brunt of the re-directed waste. According to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tonnes in 2016 to 456,000 tonnes in just the first six months of 2018, mainly coming from the UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and the US. The environmental and social cost has been high. A report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) detailed how across sout-east Asia, the influx of toxic waste has caused contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses.

In recognition of the damage being done, the Basel Convention, a multilateral agreement about the handling of waste globally, was amended this month to prohibit unrecyclable and contaminated plastic waste being imported into developing countries without their consent. However, it will only come into effect in 2020 and not all south-east Asian countries are signatories.

Yet even as south-east Asian governments start to crack down on the problem, the waste just keeps on coming. In Indonesia, 60 containers of foreign hazardous and toxic waste have been sitting in a port in Riau Island for the past five months. Last week, crates of shredded municipal garbage from Australia turned up in the Philippines labelled as fuel in at attempt to bypass customs regulations. Philippine customs officials confirmed they were working on sending it back.

Beau Baconguis, Plastics Campaigner of GAIA Asia Pacific, pointed out how developed countries in the west were still only willing to take back their own rubbish “begrudgingly” .

“It’s their waste so these countries should be responsible for it,” said Baconguis. “To us, it’s an environmental injustice for poorer countries to take the waste of richer countries just because they don’t want to deal with it. So hopefully when their rubbish is sent back, finally these countries will be forced into action on their own doorstep.”

Green groups call on Southeast Asian governments to resist waste imports

MANILA, Philippines (May 24, 2019) — Southeast Asian environmental non-governmental organizations are calling on their respective governments to strictly enforce bans on illegally shipped wastes from developed countries.

“The recent news about waste shipments being discovered at the shores of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia is alarming. When the wealthy nations clean up, it should not have to be at the expense of the developing world. Governments in Asia, which has become the world’s new dumpsite, must strictly guard their territories against waste smuggling from richer countries,” said Beau Baconguis, Plastics Campaigner of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific and Break Free From Plastic Asia Pacific coordinator.

Early this month, waste shipments from Australia arrived at the Mindanao International Container Terminal in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental in Southern Philippines. These were declared as municipal waste/processed engineered fuel (PEF) intended for the cement company Holcim. The news of the shipment broke out as the Philippine government is demanding the Canadian government to take back 69 containers of illegally shipped wastes found in the Manila port in 2013 and 2014.

“The entry into our country of residual wastes generated by Australia’s commercial, industrial, and construction sectors in the form of cement kiln fuels looks like a devious disposal scheme.  Described as ‘municipal waste’ in the shipment declaration, Australia is able to get rid of its residual wastes in a profitable way by converting and relabeling them as processed engineered fuel for export to developing countries like ours. We question this latest scheme of foreign waste disposal,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of Ecowaste Coalition.

Meanwhile, early this year, at least 60 shipping containers carrying hazardous and toxic wastes have been piling up at the Batu Ampar port in Batam, Riau Island, in Indonesia for five months. Earlier, a shipment containing waste from foreign countries was discovered in Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta.

“This has to stop. It is the height of hypocrisy for the richer countries to be presenting themselves to the world as having good waste management system, while at the same time, polluting us and calling us the world’s biggest polluters. Shame on them! Come clean up your mess and stop producing so much waste,” said Yuyun Ismawati, co-founder of BaliFokus/Nexus3.

Earlier this week, news outlets reported that the Malaysian government has already sent back to Spain five containers of contaminated plastic waste that was smuggled into the country. According to the United Nations’ trade database and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Malaysia’s imports of plastic waste from its 10 biggest source-countries jumped to 456,000 tons between January and July 2018, versus 316,600 tons purchased in all of 2017 and 168,500 tons in 2016.

Mageswari Sangalingaram of the Consumers Association of Penang lauds the move of the government of Malaysia to resist the waste shipments.

“As the Malaysian government is getting stringent in enforcing restrictions of plastic waste imports by sending back mixed, contaminated and falsely declared waste consignment to the country of origin, we are very concerned that unscrupulous exporters are now eyeing other countries and ports of entry to dump their waste. The enforcement agencies must now step up their efforts to ensure that our countries do not become dumping grounds for the developed nations,” she said.

Countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand have been at the receiving end of illegally shipped wastes from developed countries since China banned plastic waste importation in 2018. Because of this, Malaysian and Thai governments started imposing restrictions in mid-2018.

A recent  report by GAIA titled “Discarded: Communities on the Frontlines of the Global Plastic Crisis” shows the impacts of plastic waste being dumped into developing countries. The influx of the plastic waste in these countries has resulted in contaminated water, crop death, and respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling toxic fumes from burned plastic.

In the recently held Basel Convention, an international treaty on dealing with hazardous waste, 187 countries agreed to Norway’s proposal of extending the “prior informed consent” system to plastic waste. The agreement requires exporters to seek the permission from destination countries before it can ship in its hazardous waste to that country. The said agreement is set to take effect after a year.

“The Basel Convention mandates countries to deal with their plastic waste problem in their own backyards instead of passing the burden on to other countries. Until the amendment takes effect in 2020, developing countries are on their own in safeguarding their territories,” Baconguis said.

Note to the Editor:

In order to make cement, high-temperature kilns are needed. Traditionally, coal is used in these kilns, but in the past two decades, many “alternative fuels” have been used. The term “alternative fuel” has often been used to disguise the fact that this “fuel” is actually waste, including tires, plastics, and petrochemical waste. Burning waste alongside coal allows cement kilns to use loopholes in emission regulations. In some instances, the kilns actually receive subsidies or carbon credits for replacing some coal with waste—in spite of their toxic impact.



Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic | +63 917-6070248


Sherma Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific | +63 917-8157570


Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific | +63 917-5969286


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