Plastic pellet loss: what are the impacts and possible actions?
The marine litter issue
There is a growing concern about the presence of plastics in the environment. Plastic litter could end up in soils, waterways and eventually the ocean, contributing to global pollution. The majority of plastics pollution is caused by mismanaged waste. There is also an increased interest in how microplastics contribute to this environmental issue. Marine scientists have reported more frequently that birds, turtles and fish ingest a wide variety of plastic objects which can be harmful to their health or even fatal. The vast majority of this waste (80%) originates from land. Most of these items are debris of used consumer goods, potentially carelessly thrown away or non-intentionally lost.
Plastics do not belong in our environment, our food or our drinking water. To tackle this, we need appropriate waste management infrastructures, ongoing investments in innovations, and openly engage with our stakeholders. It requires all value chain actors, including manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, recyclers, as well as policy makers, to work together on delivering the necessary behavioural and systemic changes. Plastics are essential to our future. Our commitment as an industry is to relentlessly focus on ensuring that plastics continue to deliver much needed societal benefits without having a negative impact on the environment or health. This includes supporting the European Union’s Green Deal ambitions – our collective blueprint for accelerating our transformation to a more sustainable future. We are determined to implement long-lasting positive change.
Plastic pellets: a raw material not to be wasted
Part of this litter, however, consists of pellets meant to be manufactured into plastic products. While consumers are responsible for the proper disposal of used products, the plastics industry must, for its part, ensure containment of the products it handles, namely the plastic pellets, flakes and powders. Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) is specifically aimed to prevent discharge into water flows and to the marine environment.
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 which 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. It is therefore important for all workers handling pellets to be trained to quickly react and take the appropriate measures in order to contain these spills. Pellets loading and unloading operations account for the highest risk of loss at all stages of the value chain.
The European OCS pledge
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:
Initiating an OCS certification scheme in Europe
The Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) programme was developed by the industry to help companies tackle pellet leakage by providing a series of recommendations in the form of a manual based on collective learning. This manual aims to support companies to achieve excellence in implementing the necessary measures, in accordance with their specific set-up. In the last years, an ever-increasing number of plastics producers, converters and transporters in Europe have signed up to OCS.
The ambition for the certification scheme governance is to be inclusive and transparent, integrating views from various stakeholders, such as public authorities, civil society, certification bodies and industry, guiding it towards success in minimising pellet losses across Europe in full transparency.
In 2020, EuPC - the association of European Plastics Converters - and Plastics Europe decided to go a step further and committed to jointly develop by 2022 an OCS certification scheme aimed at controlling and documenting compliance with requirements targeting minimisation of pellet loss across the entire plastics supply chain. It will also support the effective, harmonised and quantifiable implementation of the OCS programme. The OCS certification scheme will set common minimum requirements (based on the six pillars of the OCS pledge) that will be audited regularly by accredited third party auditors.
The facilities externally audited as meeting the requirements of the OCS certification scheme will be listed on the publicly available database: ‘The OCS Public Register’.
The founding principles and content of the OCS Europe Certification Scheme are presented in the documents available on: