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ClientEarth Communications

25th July 2022

Wildlife & habitats

Court set to rule on INEOS's new €3bn plastics project

Our lawyers, together with 13 other NGOs, have taken action to block petrochemicals giant INEOS’s plastics project in Belgium. And for good this time – we've gone to court and now we’re awaiting the judgment.

The problem with plastics

Plastics are a slow-motion disaster for people and the environment. They are not only a concern because of the waste that they generate, but also because of the increasing problem they pose to the climate and our health.

It’s not widely enough known, but around 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels can be processed into a number of products, some of which are petrochemials, which can be used to make the building blocks of plastics.

The process of extracting these fossil fuels and converting them into plastic is highly carbon-intensive, generating huge amounts of climate-harming emissions along each stage of plastics’ life cycle.

Plastics also pose a serious threat to human rights. The production process is toxic and disproportionately affects minority communities, a sign of what’s known as environmental racism. In Louisiana in the US, a gas refining hub has been tragically coined ‘Cancer Alley’ because of the elevated levels of cancer in the surrounding communities. In many countries, plastics waste management also depends on informal workers, subjected to dangerous conditions and lacking basic labour rights.

That’s why we’re taking action to block the construction of this new plastics facility in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium.

The project, known as Project One and owned by petrochemical giant INEOS, would cost €3 billion and would be Europe’s biggest plastics facility in 30 years. If built, Project One would not only have devastating local environmental and climate impacts, but also global consequences.

The story so far

In 2020, together with 13 NGOs, we took emergency legal action against the Flemish authorities to block Project One from being built. The project – if allowed to go ahead – would have originally have consisted of two units, built beside a protected nature site, and would convert fossil gas from the US into ethylene and propylene, two of the building blocks of plastic.

The US produces so much fossil gas that its exports are now feeding growing plastics industries in India, China and Europe.

But we are already producing more plastic than we need. Project One would only further fuel more unnecessary plastic entering a saturated market and further increase demand for US gas.

We won an injunction against INEOS that year – the court agreed the authorities hadn’t properly interrogated the project’s environmental impacts. Our full appeal against the project’s initial permit approval was launched a month later, highlighting the clear breaches of EU and national laws in the planning process.

In January 2021, INEOS announced that plans for one of the two units would be suspended indefinitely. A spokesperson cited a challenging market, with demand for propylene plummeting.

Later that year, INEOS began seeking approval for a new permit, which would attempt to reflect the full environmental impacts of its planned plastic project in the Port of Antwerp. But we, along with our partners, objected, outlining that INEOS has so far failed to adequately show how the project would impact the climate, nature and surrounding air quality – all of which are likely to suffer significantly if the project goes ahead.

However, the Flemish authorities went ahead anyway, and, at the end of 2021, gave the green light to INEOS’s fresh permit for ‘Project One’. That was our green light to prepare for court action.

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What's the latest?

In January 2022 we appealed the authorities’ decision, but this was dismissed. So in July, we took the authorities to court to stop this project from going ahead once and for all. Our lawsuit argues that the Flemish authorities have failed in their legal duty to force the company to fully disclose the consequences of the project – making the approval illegal.

Tatiana Luján said: "Make no mistake, using fossil gas to make plastics is an attempt to keep the petrochemicals industry alive. This would be Europe’s largest plastics investment in decades and it is entirely out of touch with the Green Deal and the reality of climate change, the decline of the natural world, and the increasing evidence of what plastics do to our health."

Projects like this also have not only devastating effects on the surrounding environment, but huge global impacts.

"The plastics that these projects help produce emit carbon dioxide at each stage of their lifecycle. Instead of putting a stop to this hugely destructive and unnecessary project, the authorities have welcomed it. As they have failed to acknowledge or publicise the inevitable repercussions of Project One, we've been left with no choice but to take the project to court."

What happens now?

After taking the Flemish authorities to court in 2022, a hearing took place in April 2023. During the hearing the parties presented their arguments. We are now waiting for a ruling from the court, which is expected in the second half of the year.

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