"The consumer ultimately pays more for single use trays than for multiple use and more durable plant trays. Royal FloraHolland (RFH), however, delays the transition to the multi-purpose tray. One reason is the open calculation model of the Normpack trays that this Dutch auction is using. Research shows that both the grower at the beginning of the chain, as well as the retailer and the final consumer are all very open to this more durable variant."
This says Harmen Spek from Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). The environmental organization is asking for attention for the 'disastrous' impact of plastics on the environment and raises topics such as wastage and indifference. The ornamentals industry is a major plastic user with its millions of single use trays. As there are more or less clear (plastic) flows in this sector, the demand for the most durable tray led to further investigation. "It's a case," says Harmen, “that we started to research two years ago and that soon led to interesting insights."
Images taken from the position paper Icon project PSF ornamentals production
"We soon came into contact with the producers and with Normpack, that issues the quality mark for single use trays. Royal FloraHolland is the owner of Normpack. Normpack certifies a wide variety of single use trays, in total this comes down to around 180 million trays per year (about 2600 kilograms of plastic per hour). New trays are often ordered by or on behalf of FloraHolland, that assigns the production to a handful of producers. Then the auction takes a margin on each tray, and so it's a model profitable for all parties."
According to the auction, at least 80% of single use trays should be recycled in the Netherlands, Harmen continues, but at least 90% of these trays are exported. "And those trays almost never return." Later this statement was recalled and cooperation with the research, which was initially withheld, was promised.
In response to a position paper published by the PSF, which deals with plastic in the ornamentals industry, even questions were raised by the House of Representatives. RFH had in the meantime hired Blonk Consultants to compare the single use trays with multiple use trays on sustainability criteria in a so-called LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) report. State Secretary Dijksma gave as temporary response that she wanted to wait for the results of the research in question, to arrive at a thorough reply at a later stage.
When the report was ready, "after a delay of almost a year", PSF was invited by the cooperative for a presentation of the report in mid-May. "This proved what everybody suspected: the multi-purpose trays are much better in virtually all aspects," according to Harmen.
However, the results of the research have not been disclosed by RFH, although there is a message on the website with the indication 'multiple is better than single'. "The actual results remain undisclosed," Harmen thinks, "and you get the distinct impression that RFH delays the discussion. At that presentation, we did not get a sheet or summary to take home, it was argued that it would be too complicated for the public. Nonsense of course, the presented data leaves little room for confusion. The presentation showed, among other things, that in particular the recycling of single use trays is very difficult to organize due to the large spreading through exports.”
It is of course a complicated issue. Not only the auction makes money with the trays, but also the producers and exporters. The retailer is ultimately responsible for it. Moreover, trays are certainly not the only polluter. Pots, covers and lots of other things are also made of plastic. And if you think that the problem can be reduced rather simply with so-called bioplastics, then you'd better think again. "That's also a difficult matter, because how durable and biodegradable are plastics really?"
Through press officer Joram Kanner, Royal FloraHolland states "not to recognize themselves in the unilateral story of the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). It lacks the nuance that is also explained to PSF by independent consultancy firm Blonk."
"Royal FloraHolland is working on a future-proof ornamentals production sector in which flowers and plants are grown and traded with respect for humanity and the environment. Royal FloraHolland recognizes and acknowledges the global plastic problem and appreciates the goal pursued by the Plastic Soup Foundation; packaging is an important part of the plastic soup, and especially consumer packaging, such as plastic bags, caps, candy packs, bottles, etc. Also in this light, Royal FloraHolland encourages growers and trading companies to make the right choices based on sustainability and the cooperative works continuously at making its own policy more durable on this theme," according to the statement.
From a survey from the Plastic Soup Foundation it would appear that many links in the chain want to get rid of the single use tray. The actual reproach of PSF at the address of the cooperative is that there would be a lack of motivation: "Particularly an influential party like FloraHolland would like to go for a green image? Why not communicate openly, why not say: let's go for widespread efforts for multiple systems and ensure real sustainability of plastic consumption within the industry. Go ahead, take the lead ... is image not important?"
The underlying problem with all this, Harmen concludes, is that plastic as a base material is simply too cheap. "It's just too tempting for producers to make only single use products from plastic. The material is cheap, light, and the end user just looks what he or she can use it for afterwards. However, the effects are becoming increasingly visible because worldwide we can no longer control the mountain of plastic waste."
Plastic is not just a packaging material, it is sometimes found in the craziest products. Think of shampoos, mascaras, health care products and household items. These micro-plastics are now also applied as a filler and PSF is very concerned about this. "These are ending up in the oceans, in the micro-organisms and finally back on our plate. That abundant and unnecessary use of plastic, that's what needs to be reduced."
For more information:
Plastic Soup Foundation
Van Hallstraat 52-1
1051 HH Amsterdam
T: +31 (0)85 401 6244