Preventing plastic pollution from pellet loss: supply chain approach

Reducing the risk of plastic pellet loss, particularly during transfer along the supply chain.

1 Introduction

The Scottish Government is committed to implementing a suite of measures to reduce plastic pollution from a range of sources. To understand how best to do this the Scottish Government set up the Plastic Pellet Loss Steering Group. This document is a summary of work commissioned on behalf of the Group to develop new ways to respond to the issue of plastic pellet pollution and to reduce the plastic pellet loss which causes this pollution problem in Scotland and beyond.

1.1 The Group

In 2018, the Scottish Government established a steering group with the purpose of exploring how best to maximise pellet loss prevention. The steering group comprised of representatives from businesses, environmental organisations, regulators, standards organisations, officials and industry bodies. The group agreed that while progress had been made to tackle pellet loss by industry, further action was needed. Group members agreed that standards and certifications could provide a robust solution to prevent pellet pollution at each stage of the plastic supply chain. Critically, standards and certifications should build on industry-led advice laid out in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS)[1]. Furthermore such a system of standards and certifcations should allow businesses of all sizes to participate, incorporate audits by a certified body which are compatible with existing auditing systems and logging of compliant businesses with a single central authority.

1.2 The Issue

The raw materials for most of our plastic products are pellets, powders and flakes, more commonly known by the public as nurdles. Spills can occur whenever these materials (hereafter referred to as pellets) are handled along the supply chain, from production and manufacturing processes to transport and storage. If spills aren't prevented and cleaned up properly then pellets can enter drains and end up in waterways, rivers and oceans. The widespread loss from the supply chain of all of these materials is a key cause of marine microplastic pollution worldwide. It is estimated that, after vehicle tyre particles, plastic pellets are the most significant source of primary[2] microplastic pollution[3]; the inclusion of powders and flakes would increase this. It is also an economic issue due to the waste of valuable resources. This environmental and financial 'leak' of plastic urgently needs to be addressed.

Plastic pellet pollution is an international problem, which requires an international response. The Scottish Government and members of the steering group wish to explore the proposed solutions to ensure responsible pellet handling practices are applied in Scotland. However, the Scottish Government recognises that collaboration with others beyond Scotland is also necessary to allow a coordinated and compatible international response.

1.3 The Supply Chain approach

During its considerations the steering group was keen to understand and develop a supply chain approach to managing pellet loss. Zero Waste Scotland supported this through commissioning, on behalf of the group, a programme of stakeholder engagement, site visits and research to propose a system to prevent pellet loss from the supply chain. The system needed to balance functionality, ease of use and cost in order to achieve that goal. It also needed to take account of existing developments and identify problem areas that might remain.

This summary report by Zero Waste Scotland outlines the group's proposed approach, based on members' extensive discussions and expertise, as well as the programme of stakeholder engagement and site visits. It also sets out some of the next steps required to put these recommendations into practice.

By sharing this report, and through further collaboration with industry representatives and decision makers, it is anticipated that a coordinated approach to prevent further pollution from plastic pellets can be taken which is effective, feasible and affordable.

Further detail on the stakeholder engagement can be found in the full report by Eunomia - commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland for the steering group - which has been published with this summary.



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