On 16th January 2019 information was leaked by means of the German paper Handelsblatt of The Alliance to End Plastic Waste. A new industrial coalition that may make investments $1billion over the subsequent five years in a campaign to scale back the quantity of plastic waste in the world. Right here was a strong body of main firms figuring out to deal with the scourge that was besetting the Earth and inflicting a lot misery to so many, particularly in the Western Metropolitan society – the plague of plastic.
In parallel with the seemingly infinite tide of plastic waste has come a rising tide of concern. In December 2017 the remaining episode of Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ collection thrust the problem into the mainstream and now not often a day passes and not using a additional report on the influence of plastic refuse on wildlife, on the scale of the plastic gyres in the Pacific, or on the mounds of waste on the world’s beaches. And the media additionally stories the battle back – cities declaring themselves plastic free, campaigns to make London ‘a city that breaks free of plastic’, The Day by day Mail’s ‘Break the Plastic Habit!’ initiative and the valiant individuals (so typically ladies) who’ve devoted their lives to gathering plastic from the beaches and rivers.
We salute Fran Crowe, who has been half of the Platform extended family for a long time and who, since 2006, has made the focus of her highly effective work the gathering of plastics on the beaches, notably in Suffolk. She fashions lovely, surprising installations from her finds. In 2007 she set herself the challenge of ‘saving’ one sq. mile of sea, by accumulating 46,000 items of plastics while strolling along the shore near the place she lives. Via her art she has made tangible the typically invisible pollution of the oceans.
There at the moment are stirrings in the legislatures. The British Parliament announced in September 2018 that it might substitute single-use plastic in the catering offered to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In December 2018 the European Parliament and European Commission reached provisional political settlement on new measures to deal with marine litter at supply, concentrating on ten plastic products. It appears that evidently with the announcement of The Alliance to Finish Plastic Waste the world of corporate capital is finally waking up.
But the Plastic Waste initiative just isn’t without its critics. The Recycling Netwerk, based mostly in Utrecht, Netherlands launched a press release that highlighted that the drawback of plastics is just not a lot one of waste, however one of production. That the answer to the world drowning in plastic refuse shouldn’t be only via spending extra time litter choosing – though that is very important – but by stopping the manufacture of plastics in the first place. The Netwerk highlighted the incontrovertible fact that several of the signatories to the Waste Alliance are also some of the world’s largest producers of plastics – together with Shell, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BASF and LyondellBasell.
Shell, for example, is presently ramping up its production of the chemical compounds that underpin plastics by building a new plant at Potter Township on the Ohio River close to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. It intends to use fracked gas as the manufacturing unit’s feedstock. This works goals to generate annually 1.6 million tonnes of polyethylene, the world’s commonest plastic.
Rob Buurman of Netwerk Recycling declared:
“It is interesting to see [the chemicals industry] finally acknowledge that there is a problem with their plastics. But unfortunately, this initiative does not tackle the problem at its source: the gigantic production of 400m tonnes of plastic each year, with 60m metric tonnes produced in Europe alone.”
Buurman stated road, river and seashore clean-ups would not work as long as there was a gentle stream of new plastics being produced and collected in a half-hearted method. “These kind of actions want to cure the image of plastic. But plastics don’t have an image problem – the exaggerated use of it in products with a short lifespan is a problem in itself,”
The spokesperson for Plastic Waste pushed back against this criticism: “Reducing the amount of plastic required to create products while preserving the benefits people rely on and making plastics easier to recycle is definitely part of the solution. … Some of the members (of the Alliance) do produce plastic, and some have announced expansions to meet the demands of a growing population…”
The PR government continued:
“Plastic provides many critical health, safety and sustainability benefits that help improve and maintain living standards, hygiene and nutrition around the world and replacing it could, in the end, do more harm than good… We must maintain the critical benefits that plastics bring to people and communities. It is not either/or. With a thoughtful, comprehensive and strategic approach, we can do both.”
This response of the corporates to concern over plastics is archetypal. Blame not the manufacturing, for what is produced is of very important import to the world (particularly those in the ‘under developed world’), however call for everybody to return collectively in addressing the drawback of the waste.
The exact same rhetoric is utilized to oil & gas extraction – it isn’t an issue of manufacturing however of waste. So we have to cope with CO2 emissions: by growing effectivity, by planting timber, by carbon seize & storage know-how, and so on. As soon as once more ‘Let us all work together to address the problem of waste’, don’t trigger division by harping on about production.
They tried the similar technique in the 1960s and ‘70s around pesticides, responding to the widespread concern that grew on the back of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’.
This narrative all the time obscures the elementary incontrovertible fact that the level of chemical production is not to meet the social want for service luggage or hip replacements, laptops or syringes (or the plastic glasses via which I peer at the world), but to generate return on personal capital, to increase personal wealth.
There’s one plastics manufacturer who is refreshingly open and blunt on these matters, and seems to be reluctant to participate in this business vast picture initiative by the Plastic Waste Alliance, he is the head of INEOS, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. He’s a logo of the new part in the struggle over fossil fuels. As the likes of Shell and BP appear to waver somewhat, INEOS is stepping to the front of the battle. For INEOS, a reputation unheard of by so many of us, is the one of the world’s largest producers of chemical compounds and oil products. Their strap line is ‘The Word for Chemicals.’ It has a flip over of $60 billion.
Netwerk Recycling touched on this of their announcement, stating that in the similar week that information happened the Plastic Waste alliance, INEOS had made a press assertion on a € 3 billion investment (equal to $three.4 billion) to create one of the largest chemical compounds crops in European history on the banks of the River Schelde in Antwerp.
There’s an necessary backstory to INEOS’ move. Ratcliffe was once an worker of BP’s Saltend chemical plant by Hull however was sacked. Nevertheless in 1992, having grow to be a enterprise capitalist and arrange on his own as Inspec, he purchased BP’s Hythe plastics manufacturing unit close to Southampton and its sister manufacturing unit in Carshalton on the River Wandle in South West London. In 1995, after altering the firm’s identify to INEOS, he made his boldest move by buying BP’s plant in Antwerp.
BP was eager to be rid of this vast works in Belgium that it had had a stake in since the 1950s, for the company was rapidly pulling out of all chemical compounds investments in Europe. In 1994 it had put the nail in the coffin of its Baglan Petrochemicals Plant in South Wales – which had a ship dedicated to exporting raw product from Baglan to Antwerp. Quickly after closing Baglan, BP decided to take a position heavily in a chemical compounds plant in Yangtze, China, taking a 51% stake in the Yangtze River Acetyls Co. Ltd. The company was shifting capital from Western Europe to the Far East and leaving in its wake areas resembling South Wales blighted by deindustrialisation. It seemed as though the similar destiny would befall Antwerp.
Nevertheless Ratcliffe bought the plant and stripped it to the bone, managing thereby to turn it round as a profitable venture and keep manufacturing. It remained a hub in the chemical compounds world of North Western Europe. In 2010 INEOS introduced that they might build a new 1 million tonne per yr deep-sea Ethylene Terminal at Zwijndrecht, with a link direct to INEOS’s ethylene consuming manufacturing unit in Antwerp and another plant in the Rotterdam area, as well as into Europe by way of the Aethylen-Rohrleitungs-Gesellschaft (ARG) pipeline to Koln, feeding crops akin to those run by BASF at Dormagen. INEOS was by then the largest producer of ethylene in Europe. Ratcliffe, a buccaneering capitalist now had his palms on the chemical coronary heart of the EU.
The same pattern advanced in the UK Sector of the North Sea offshore fields. INEOS began in 2005 by buying Grangemouth Refinery which is provided largely by UK North Sea oil and is an important organ in the UK Sector machine. By 2015 it was purchasing gas fields, resembling Breagh and Clipper South, 40 miles east off Norfolk. In 2017 it introduced the Forties Pipeline System by means of which passes 40% of the UK’s oil and the higher half of all of its offshore oil production. Late last yr INEOS bid for all of Chevron’s stakes in the UK North Sea aiming to make Ratcliffe one of the largest gamers in that large industrial realm. As with the management of the Antwerp plant, the Zwijndrecht dock and the ARG pipeline, INEOS now had its palms on the oil coronary heart of the UK.
Who is this Jim Ratcliffe? Sixty-six years previous, a defiantly self-made man from near Manchester, Ratcliffe was declared the UK’s ‘Richest Man’ in the Sunday Occasions ‘Rich List 2018’ and was knighted in the similar yr. He owns an in depth residence close to Hythe in Hampshire (near the first plant he introduced – now closed) and two luxury yachts. His base is in Monaco and INEOS is registered in Switzerland. He is an archetypal image of the new period of Britain’s oil & gas realm, an era when it’s not dominated solely by UK-based personal capital in the type of firms resembling BP and Shell, however by foreign-based personal capital in the type of INEOS and Chrysaor. These latter corporations are virtually completely hidden from public view. It isn’t shocking that the majority of us haven’t heard of the identify INEOS.
Ratcliffe and INEOS, though overseas based mostly and paying little or no tax in the UK, continue to play a key position in shaping the politics of this country – simply as BP and Shell have accomplished since the 1910s. INEOS has been in the media for it’s decided pursuit of fracking in the UK and has been the object of protests in Scotland, Yorkshire, Cheshire and elsewhere. This month Greenpeace UK revealed that INEOS had instantly threatened to close its Seal Sands chemical compounds plant, on Teesside, if needed to abide by EU environmental legislation. The plant has broken legal pollution limits 176 occasions in the last four years and INEOS wrote to Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Enterprise & Power, to say that the company would shut – with the loss of 2,000 jobs – fairly than make investments to adjust to laws until Clark discovered a means to help it “defer compliance with regulations.” This, and INEOS’s push to frack in Britain, are good examples of the sort of lobbying that the UK government has lengthy been subjected to by the oil & gas business. However the UK’s potential to resist such strain, and thus to defend the quality of our air and the ecosystems of our rivers, will probably be far weaker if Britain steps outdoors the EU.
Not surprisingly Ratcliffe has been a rare example of an outspoken supporter of Brexit in the ‘business community’. So we tie back plastics to Brexit. Here is a man who needs to drive the UK out of the European Union, apparently as a result of he believes in Britain having a shiny ‘free market future’ outdoors the constraints on Bruxelles paperwork. A man whose firm is central to the financial system of the UK and a key participant in the industrial techniques of a quantity of key EU states, including Belgium and Germany, and yet who himself chooses to stay outdoors the EU in the tax havens on its periphery. And a man who has been virulently outspoken against EU Environmental legislation, whilst being in receipt of hundreds of thousands of Euros in EU subsidies.
And a man who’s probably lobbying against the attempt by the European Commission to limit plastic waste. For as we’ve got seen, though a central producer of plastics, INEOS shouldn’t be a participant in the Plastic Waste Alliance.
Thankfully the shameless manoeuvring of Ratcliffe – being so central to the UK’s power system and demanding subsidies while not paying tax – has not gone unnoticed. The shift to be domiciled in Monaco is reported to be saving £4 billion that may have gone to the UK Exchequer. On February 17th 2019 Labour’s John McDonnell advised The Monetary Occasions: “Any government would look askance at Mr Ratcliffe’s advice and representations (for state subsidies) from here on given the attitude he is displaying to our country in his tax affairs. Patriots pay their taxes.” And the Day by day Mirror reported that McDonnell stated: “This is a super-rich person. We’re not talking about someone who’s on his uppers… For every penny that’s avoided in this way in taxation, what does that mean? It means the NHS doesn’t treat patients, it means our children don’t get the full investment in their education and it means less safety on our streets. I appeal to people like this – this is a great country to live in, just make your contribution like the rest of us.”
INEOS and Ratcliffe, and others like him are the new lords of the oil & gas world and the struggle to guard the local weather, handle other environmental plagues similar to plastic waste, and ensure we construct a more socially just and equal society, should be fought on this battleground. Simply as INEOS strives to generate the highest profit whether working within or with out the EU, the UK motion for social & ecological justice will need to interact in this battle whether or not we stay in the EU or depart. In both situations we urgently have to ‘Reform’ the financial system.
With because of Fran Crowe & Terry Macalister.
The themes on this blog are drawn from research for the forthcoming e-book – ‘Crude Britannia – How Big Oil shaped a nation’s past and future’, by Terry Macalister and James Marriott. Due for publication in 2020