What are plastic pellets?
In the world of plastic production, plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, play a crucial role. These nurdles, typically round or oval and measuring around 2-5 mm in diameter, are used to make nearly every plastic product imaginable.
Plastic pellets are a pivotal intermediary in the journey from monomers to the production of finalised consumer goods. Their size and shape make them incredibly easy to handle, store, and transport. However, this convenience also comes with a downside – accidental spills can occur, leading to the presence of microplastics in the environment.
“Plastic pellet loss prevention is a main pillar of our sustainability strategy. Our common goal is to eliminate all loss of pellets to the environment.”
Dr Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, Member of Plastics Europe Steering Board
Tackling plastic pellet loss at every stage of the value chain
Plastic pellets escape into the environment at every stage of their handling, including production, transportation, and final product manufacturing. While most spillages are relatively small, spills can occur frequently. However, there are occasions when the impact of these spills can be much larger, such as during road transport or maritime transport.
The unintentional release of these pellets into the environment can negatively impact animals in or around aquatic environments as they can mistake pellets for food, leading to potential harm or even death. The loss of plastics pellets in our ecosystems is unacceptable but, unfortunately, can occur at all stages along the value chain. Preventing plastics pellet loss requires a collective effort from industry stakeholders, governments, and society as a whole.
A collaborative approach is essential to tackling plastic pellet loss at every stage of the value chain. By working together, stakeholders can learn from each other and identify effective solutions to reduce plastic pellet loss. For this reason, we welcome legislation proposed by the European Commission in October 2023 on preventing plastic pellet losses to reduce microplastic pollution. If adopted as proposed, this legislation would oblige the entire European Union plastics value chain to reduce plastic pellets’ mishandling actively and to prevent, contain and clean up pellets that are spilled or lost.
The European plastics industry’s commitment to prevent pellet loss
Plastics remain essential for our future, but they certainly do not belong in our environment. To avoid pellet loss, Plastics Europe has been actively and progressively working to prevent pellet loss to the environment for many years via Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS). This frontrunning initiative has seen industry actors voluntarily establish suitable pellet management systems, and continuously invest in technologies to prevent pellets from being lost to the environment.
As a further reinforcement of its initiative, the plastics industry introduced the first-ever European pellet loss prevention certification scheme in February of 2023. The OCS Europe certification scheme adds extra accountability to the industry’s actions by establishing unified processes and procedures for effectively managing and documenting pellet loss throughout the entire plastics supply chain.
Under the scheme, all OCS signatories can evaluate and quantify their adherence to the OCS pledge. The pledge is based on the six pillars of:
- 1. Improvement of worksite set-up: Optimising infrastructure and facilities to minimize the risk of pellet spills.
- 2. Creation of public and internal procedures: Implementing clear protocols for handling, storing, and transporting plastic pellets.
- 3. Employee training and accountability: Educating and empowering employees to follow best practices and take responsibility for pellet loss prevention.
- 4. Audit performance: Regular evaluations and inspections to ensure adherence to the OCS scheme.
- 5. Compliance with state and local regulations: Meeting and exceeding regulatory requirements to safeguard the environment.
- 6. Encouragement of partners to pursue the same goals: Promoting collaboration among stakeholders to prioritize pellet loss prevention.
The OCS Europe Certification Scheme is a big step forward in the fight against plastic pellet pollution. It’s a collaborative effort between the plastics industry and other stakeholders, and it’s based on a solid foundation of science and best practices. By promoting responsible plastic pellet management, the OCS scheme and future legislation aim to create a more sustainable and environmentally conscious plastics industry across the entire value chain.