What are plastic pellets?
Plastic pellets are small granules (often called nurdles) that are used in the plastics manufacturing process. In Europe, the majority of plastics raw materials take the form of either round or oval granules of approximately 2-5 mm in diameter, known as pellets or powder (< 1 mm). Flakes consist of mixed plastics materials of various sizes produced through the recycling of plastics waste.
Whilst high environmental, safety and quality management controls are applied throughout the plastics industry, unintentional loss of pellets can occur at different stages along the value chain. Spills that occur in closed areas with no possible route into the environment will be contained. However, when spillages occur outside of a closed area, pellets may end up being washed down drains and into waterways before eventually flowing into the ocean. This can lead to severe environmental and social impacts. The format makes them easy to use, handle, and transport – however, this can lead to accidental spills, making them among the largest sources of primary microplastics in the environment.
As the plastics industry (and its value chain) is producing and handling these pellets until their conversion into a final product, it has direct control over their management and must ensure containment within its facilities.
A focus on marine litter
Plastics Europe recognises that there is a need to tackle the leakage of plastic pellets across our industry. That’s why we created the Zero Pellet Loss (ZPL) voluntary initiative. In 2015, this initiative was combined with the global Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) programme.
As the primary host of the programme in Europe, we are coordinating its implementation by encouraging the entire plastics value chain, from member companies to logistics providers, transporters to converters and recyclers, to join the programme. During 2019, we strengthened our commitment to pellet loss containment by making the OCS programme compulsory for all our members. Over 1,400 companies and associations along the plastics value chain in Europe have joined the OCS programme, including 100% of our member companies to which OCS is applicable. In addition, five major European ports that handle plastic pellets are also engaged with the OCS programme.
OCS is also a key component of ‘Plastics 2030’ – our voluntary commitment to increase circularity and resource efficiency.
The commitments of OCS
By signing the European OCS pledge, each pellet-handling company recognises the importance of preventing spillages into the environment and commits to the following six actions:
- Improve worksite set-up to prevent and address spills
Create and publish internal procedures to achieve zero industrial plastics material loss
Provide employee training and accountability for spill prevention, containment, clean-up and disposal
Audit performance regularly
Comply with all applicable state and local regulations governing industrial plastics containment
Encourage partners (contractors, transporters, distributors, etc.) to pursue the same goals.
“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, President of Plastics Europe
We have identified short-, medium- and long-term targets to continue driving the plastics value chain to join the OCS initiative and implement best practices for zero pellet loss.
OCS certification provides transparency
In addition to making OCS compulsory for all its members, Plastics Europe has further committed to accelerating and strengthening the OCS programme by working with the plastics value chain to develop an OCS certification scheme. That’s the reason why we signed a collaboration agreement with EuPC, the association of European Plastics Converters, in January 2021.
The parties will jointly develop a certification system by 2022 aimed at controlling pellet loss across the plastics supply chain. All signatory companies of the scheme will be audited regularly by accredited third-party auditors to establish their compliance with OCS requirements, and transparently demonstrate their efforts towards the goal of zero pellet loss into the environment. The scheme will also support the effective, harmonised and quantifiable implementation of the programme.