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ClientEarth Communications

22nd February 2024

Climate
Wildlife & habitats
Plastics
Europe
Belgium

ClientEarth court action against INEOS' new €3bn plastics project

Our lawyers, together with 14 other NGOs, have taken action to block petrochemicals giant INEOS’ plastics project in Belgium. We've been fighting for four years to stop INEOS from building what would be Europe’s biggest plastics facility in the Port of Antwerp – we need to tackle plastic production at its source, and stop more plastic being produced in the first place. 

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.

1. Plastics come from fossil fuels

Many people don't know, but  99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels can be processed into a number of products, like petroleum, gasoline and petrochemicals. The latter makes up the building blocks of plastics.

The process of extracting these fossil fuels and converting them into plastic generates huge amounts of climate-harming emissions along each stage of plastics’ life cycle.

2. Producing plastics is a health hazard for local communities

When plastic is manufactured, hazardous substances are discharged into the air. Communities located close to production sites and workers employed in the production facilities are threatened with daily exposure. 

To create plastic products, manufacturers use tiny plastic pellets called nurdles. But these lentil-sized beads are littering beaches to such a large extent that beach cleanups can’t keep up. They are also “toxic sponges”, which draw chemical toxins and pollutants. 

Plastics are an environmental issue, a people issue and a climate issue. That's why we’re taking action to block the construction of a new plastics facility in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium.

What's the latest with INEOS’ plastics project in Belgium?

The project, known as Project One, is the brainchild of petrochemicals and fossil fuel giant INEOS.  After several delays and a court ruling that cancelled the permit, INEOS has been given the green light to go ahead with Project One. If built, it would cost €3 billion and would become the biggest plastics facility in Europe, with devastating environmental and climate impacts that would stretch globally – far beyond just Belgium.

If built, the facility would have far-reaching impacts on people, nature and the climate. So, we’re challenging it in court.

Our lawyer 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 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.

We’ve already successfully delayed INEOS’ plastics facility by several years and we're not stopping here. We intend to stop the project from ever being built.

Read our press release

The story of INEOS’ plastics project so far

2020: INEOS plans to clear a forest to build Europe’s largest plastics facility, we take action

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 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.

We won an injunction against INEOS in 2020 – 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.

2021: INEOS gives up on its original plan – then gets new permit to start building

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. Soon after, INEOS decided to drop its permit for the project entirely.

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 and our partners objected, explaining that INEOS hadn't sufficiently demonstrated how the project would affect the climate, nature, and air quality nearby and abroad. If the project proceeds, it is likely to negatively impact all these aspects. However, the Flemish authorities went ahead anyway, and, at the end of 2021, gave the green light to INEOS’ fresh permit for Project One. That was our green light to prepare for court action.

Get updates

2022-2023: historic win against INEOS' plastics project

After taking the Flemish authorities to court in 2022, a hearing took place in April 2023. During the hearing the parties presented their arguments. Then a few months later, in an historic win, the court ruled that INEOS’ project was not legal and their permit was cancelled.

2023-2024: INEOS gets fresh approval to build. We challenge it

Following the court ruling, INEOS resubmitted a permit request and has now been granted approval to go ahead with the plastics project.

In February 2024, we challenged the approval because INEOS once again failed to include details of the true impact of their mega-project on people, nature and the climate – not just in the region, but along the full value chain. We argue that the Flemish authorities’ approval of the project is illegal under both EU and national laws because they didn't first demand a full assessment of its impacts.

Our lawyer Tatiana explained:

“The changes made to the project’s new permit are just window dressing. The fact remains that Project One is both hugely destructive and completely unnecessary. However, the authorities have once again failed to acknowledge the blatant, toxic repercussions of the project, so we have no choice but to go back to court.”

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