Natch in conversation with Malte Biss | How can we end plastic waste?
Founder and Managing Director of flustix - Rethink Plastics GmbH
Climate and environmental protection must become more consistent! Only together can we change something, take responsibility and educate. The Berlin-based company flustix tests products and packaging for their plastic content and awards various plastic-free seals. We are very pleased: Natch was also recently certified with a flustix seal. In an interview with Malte Biss, we look at the background to the plastic problem - on our own doorstep and worldwide. Look forward to exciting insights and background facts on the topic of plastic waste. Because it affects everyone!
Read a summary of the Natch Live Talk on Instagram here.
What was your path from being a journalist for many years to becoming the founder of flustix?
Actually, everything came out of journalism.
My first contact with the plastics issue was in 2011, when I accompanied a delegation from the Principality of Monaco to the World Climate Summit in Durban as a journalist. In the evening, on the fringes of the summit, we had long talks, including with Prince Albert. He told me: If we can't keep to the 1.5 degrees of the Paris Agreement, we'll get our feet wet in Monaco! In addition, Monaco lies in a whirlpool that pushes the plastic into the harbour. So the beach has to be constantly cleaned of it.
We also talked about plastic waste carpets
In the Baltic Sea alone, 80% of the rubbish is plastic. In the Mediterranean, the number is much higher. So we have the problem right here on our doorstep.
Prince Albert said we need to develop a system where the economy is picked up. So work with the economy, not against it.
Through my work as chief reporter at Bild am Sonntag, I had access to large archives and then researched the topic again and again.
In 2015, the idea grew, and in 2016 I realised it: I developed a seal with which I give the economy a bonus if they do something sustainable on the topic of plastic consumption, use and processing.
Because it's important to know: Plastic is actually an ingenious material. Plastic has democratised consumption, e.g. in the area of clothing that keeps warm, health or also in emergencies such as fire (here meant: fire-resistant protective clothing), to name just a few examples.
We are just far too careless with plastics. And that's why we founded the flustix seal in 2017.
There are many seals, especially in Germany. Is flustix exclusive and unique in what it does and offers?
Yes, we are monopolists worldwide.
The reason for this is that no one has dared to approach us so far. Back then, during the founding, there was also a lot of exchange with the environment minister and also with the Federal Environment Agency.
This was followed by further exchanges with experts - as there was no definition or standard of plastic-free at that time.
A definition of what plastic-free means was then drawn up with institutes, professors, scientists, associations, NGOs, lobbies - including the Plastics Association. That was a process that took more than two years. As a result, it also had legal relevance. And then the TÜV was contacted as a future partner.
What does flustix do exactly?
We certify 360° plastics sustainability. That means we award four seals on the topic of plastic-free:
- the entire product and packaging
- plastic-free product
- plastic-free packaging
- product content without microplastic
Here are some facts:
- Approximately 15.2 million tons of plastic are consumed in Germany each year
- Three percent of this ends up in the environment: that's about 456,000 tons per year.
- A good quarter of these are larger plastic parts
- About three quarters are microplastics
- Despite all the wastewater treatment, around 112,000 metric tons of microplastics end up in our waters every year in Germany.
- Worldwide, the microplastic input into rivers and oceans is estimated at about 9.5 million tons per year
Then there are two other seals that promote the recycling of plastics so that they can be kept in circulation:
- Flustix RECYCLED - DIN approved: Declares the amount of recycled plastic on a product or packaging
- Flustix RECYCLABLE DIN plus: Certifies the recyclability of packaging
Because: every new product must have recycling capabilities. If it does not, higher fees are due to the Dual System - i.e. the waste disposal companies.
Our approach is a mono-material - that can be recycled / remelted several times. Example Tetrapacks: They contain aluminum and plastic (up to 7 layers!), which cannot be separated during recycling. Therefore they end up 1:1 in the incineration - hardly anyone knows that.
Wouldn't complete production systems have to be converted for this, which would cost the industry millions? Isn't that a huge hurdle?
If the industry rethinks and the demand for production is there, it will work.
It's the volume that matters, then it's financeable.
If, for example, a large chip manufacturer asks for mono-material, the supplier will do it, simply because he does not want to lose the order.
Or take the example of coffee to-go cups: they actually look like pure cardboard, but inside the cardboard there is still a wafer-thin layer of plastic. These could no longer be separated, so they were simply burnt unrecycled.
After the SUPD (Single Use Plastic Directive) came into force, a change was made. Paper was now processed in the production of these cups in such a way that it keeps liquids up to 90 degrees warm for half an hour. This was not done before because of the additional costs per cup - it was an economic decision.
But if someone orders 1,000,000 cups, that's a big deal. Slowly, a rethink is taking place...
How important is politics in this whole issue? Or can the economy decide for itself?
Business could do it itself, but: When I went out and contacted the companies in 2017, the door was pretty much always shut in my face. However, many of them later developed a label themselves and put it on their products.
Politics is largely responsible for this. And in the history of the EU, there was no regulation that was passed unanimously as quickly as the SUPD. This is the regulation on the handling of single-use plastics and articles.
Example Q-tip - they always come with a plastic handle, but you could just as easily make them out of cardboard. And the cotton wool is viscose, which is officially considered plastic-free since this EU regulation.
But these have now been banned completely.
All because of this regulation. So never before has an EU regulation been voted on and put into force at such a rapid pace.
Where did this unusual speed come from?
It came from the public pressure that built up. People became aware of the issue through the media, and more and more became visible. The topic of microplastics became more and more popular. On top of that, weather extremes were also making their way here to our country. It's a total package. As a result, a jolt went through society, in all countries.
You the EU was quick to agree - and of course wanted to set its own benchmarks. Politics must also be popular... This was a topic where a highly visible signal could be set quickly.
With flustix, we now belong to the circle that comments on new regulations, which is a huge success.
The next point to come is green claiming. For example, the German Environmental Aid has just sued numerous large corporations that simply write "climate neutral" on their products. But there is no such thing as "climate neutral".
In general we have to recycle in front of our door... we don't have to drink water from Italy at the Italian restaurant, which has been transported thousands of kilometers to be recycled back again. We must think more regionally, if not always everything is 100% free-from, but at least it should be regional.
We must recycle on our doorstep, and not ship the garbage around the world.
Take yellow bags, for example: these are exported outside the EU, and as soon as they have left the EU borders, they are officially considered recycled in the statistics. This is an absurdity.
We need to upgrade the facilities here so that we can recycle our own waste here. And we can make products out of it ourselves.
About you personally: what exactly drives you, what exactly is your personal why that motivates you to do this project every day?
There are so many drivers…
I want to succeed with the idea, but not personally thought. But rather, if at some point we are represented on the shelf with the seal on all products and can say, we have saved so many tons of plastic - then it would be the greatest thing for me! That's why, at the age of 43, I took another step out of my comfort zone, out of a secure job.
I also have the ambition to set up this system really well and sustainably. And what's more, we actually need our fields to grow fodder or wheat, not to make plastic or rice bags out of it. Let's use the land to create food for people, because the fat end is still coming.... That's what I want to work on!
And ambition to have a say in this world - I wanted to make a difference and had to learn the ropes completely. Many people looked at me strangely and asked me what entitled me to have a say at all. And they were right at the beginning! But then I got the ambition to learn and understand. And what I start, I always do right, right to the end.
I don't want to miss what I have learned, even if it was an exhausting way.
And all the negative and positive things I've learned about plastics.
We will triple our plastic consumption in the next ten years, I learned that too. Actually absurd!
Maybe you can confirm or correct this topic again: if plastic is burned, then a slag remains, which cannot be used further. So in this form it is also very toxic?
Exactly, that actually belongs in hazardous waste. And what happens to the slag in our country? Some of it is taken out to the fields by the farmers. This also happens with sewage sludge, which is where the microplastics come from in the fields.
And here we are again with our food, which has a direct impact:
A new study has shown - carrots drink microplastics, no joke. An example of what ends up in our food. And microplastics or nanoplastics, for example, can also be absorbed and settle in the intestinal walls, or pass through a placenta - studies have already shown that.
And inflammation can also result from that, and if you don't treat it, serious diseases can result.
Possible findings that we will see clearly at some point... Means: Plastic is a super product, we just have to be careful how and where we use it, and how often.
We have now talked about the triad - business, politics and consumers. But what tips do you have, what can consumers simply do to change over bit by bit?
One step back: Before it is the consumer's turn, he must be picked up much more, i.e. informed.
We, who know about these things, and also the disposal companies and the politicians.
Take sausage packaging, for example: if you don't separate the shell and the film 100%, you can only end up with a mixed plastic product. The recycling plants cannot separate this themselves. If you separate it yourself beforehand, new films and new shells can be produced. Many people don't know that. There must be much more information campaigns!
When the dual system - the yellow bag - was introduced in the 80s, image campaigns were carried out on a large scale so that everyone knew about it.
I just wrote about this topic in the newsletter: At the moment, one million euros in subsidies are still being given, for the production of fresh, new plastics. This means that crude oil that is purchased is not taxed when it is used in Germany to produce plastic. This should be stopped immediately, the money should be taken and educational campaigns should be carried out. Otherwise, everyone should just look carefully at how they behave in everyday life. For example, if you walk through the streets and see plastic on the ground, pick it up and throw it in the nearest rubbish.
I have dachshunds, and I'm always amused when I see dog owners who then put the pile in a bag, and then they put it under the next tree. Absurd, isn't it?
And when it comes to consumption, you can always be careful what you buy.
Because there are not only flustix, but also other official seals.
So don't believe everything. Politicians have already set their sights on precisely this! They have revealed that almost 50% of environmental claims on products are simply lies or misleading.
The EU is now taking action, they want to launch a green claiming regulation along the lines of the health claiming regulation of 2006. This means that if someone makes a claim on their product, they must also provide proof of it. Climate neutral cannot mean that I sell my product as climate neutral and plant a tree in Peru. There is no compensation system! We do have one for CO2, between countries.
But not every individual can come here and say: I am CO2 neutral because I have taken on a sponsorship for a tree in Peru. That's like buying your way out, and it doesn't work, a classic case of greenwashing.
How many countries are you in at the moment?
We have a lot of demand from Asia - from countries that export to the EU and the UK - there is a lot of demand from China, for example, Indonesia, India...
Or from North America - for example, a former McDonald's manager founded a start-up for sustainable packaging. He had been looking for a seal for a long time and then came across flustix. We also have companies in Canada. And also from all over Europe, a lot from the UK and also from Switzerland.
The portfolio is now huge, from the big players to mega-active, young start-ups.
What are the plans for flustix in the next few years?
In the short term, to ride the wave that we are experiencing!
After cleaning so many door handles and beating my nose bloody again and again, it's now the companies and also the global players who approach us and ask, and even big consulting agencies contact us.
So we want to move even more.
Through the newsletter, and also lead campaigns, we want to reach even more people, we have also expanded social media, everything to reach more consumers and offer service and information there. Everything around sustainability, with a magnifying glass on plastic sustainability.
There is so much to do, so many markets that can still be tackled.
About flustix : https://flustix.com
Mikroplastik on fields: https://flustix.com/blog/unser-taeglich-plastik-gib-uns-heute/
Green Claiming: https://flustix.com/blog/anti-greenwashing-gesetz-kommt-bald/