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ClientEarth Communications

31 January 2022

Wildlife & habitats

Our long fight against Ineos' new plastic project

Our lawyers, together with 13 NGOs, are taking action to appeal the approval of petrochemicals giant Ineos’s plastics plant project in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium. And for good this time.

The story so far

In 2020, we took emergency legal action against Ineos, over its plans to build two new plastics manufacturing units in the Port of Antwerp. The project, valued at €3bn, risked adding more plastic to an already saturated market. It was also set to cause irreversible damage to the surrounding area, through deforestation of a woodland protected for its wildlife, and by adding to the unsolved plastic pellet crisis affecting Antwerp’s shoreline and nature reserves.

We won an injunction against Ineos in November of that year – the court agreed there had been a lack of sufficient investigation by the authorities into the environmental impacts of the two new planned units. Our full appeal against the project’s initial permit approval was launched a month later. In it, we and our partner NGOs highlighted the regional authorities’ failure to assess the full scale of the project’s foreseen environmental impacts – a clear breach of EU and national laws.

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 – a key ingredient of plastic – plummeting.

An additional concern may have been the increasing unprofitability of shale gas fracking in the US. Gas is a feedstock in making the key ingredients of plastic, and the commodity has been under heavy pressure from climate protection legislation worldwide.

Our plastics lawyer, Tatiana Luján, said at the time: “This project’s environmental impacts would be so far-reaching, we believe the authorities should not be able to authorise it. Beyond the clear local impacts of woodland destruction and plastic pellet leakage, we cannot forget that plastics are made from fossil fuels, and plants like this are a global climate issue.

“The magnitude of Project One’s impacts cannot be divided over several permits to make them look smaller. Winning permission step by step when each stage of the project is interlinked is an illegal approach. This permit was always inadequate and pulling it is the only legally correct course of action. Ineos must now go back to the drawing board.”

With the project in jeopardy, Ineos announced in March that it was dropping its permit, and would start work on a new one – one that encompassed the project from start to finish, instead of slicing it into three separate interventions.

A fresh challenge for us

Later last year, Ineos began seeking approval for a new environmental permit, which would attempt to reflect the full environmental impacts of its planned plastic project in the Port of Antwerp. But we, along with 12 other environmental organisations, objected, outlining that the permit’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) still failed to meet the legal requirements and should not be granted.

However, Flemish authorities did so, and, at the end of last year, gave the green light to Ineos’ fresh permit for ‘Project One’.

We're fighting back

The new permit is Ineos' latest attempt to get the project signed off. So together with 13 other NGOs, we're launching new legal action and appealing this approval.

In approving this project, the Flemish authorities have once again brushed its gigantic impacts under the carpet.

Tatiana Luján

Plastics lawyer, ClientEarth

Tatiana went on to say - "Beyond the local effects on nature and health Project One would cause, we cannot ignore that the basis of this project is fossil fuels, and they’ll be used to create the building blocks of plastics. Plants like Project One are the fossil fuel industry’s ‘Plan B’. An investment of this scale would not only provide a lifeline for this climate-damaging sector, but also generate serious environmental and climate impacts that would be felt at each stage of its lifecycle.

Approving Project One’s permit for the second time despite its far-reaching consequences is nonsensical. We are renewing our fight to stop this project from going ahead once and for all."

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