Plastic pellets were found to be littering the environment near companies that manufacture plastic products, despite company commitments to Operation Clean Sweep, an industry initiative committed to achieving zero pellet loss.



Random samples taken near companies manufacturing plastic products show the local environment is littered with the plastic pellets (nurdles) used to make plastic products. The samples were taken for a report produced by Danish NGO Plastic Change and commissioned by Fauna & Flora International, on the loss of plastic pellets to the environment in Denmark (Read the full report: Tackling sources of Marine Plastic Pollution through effective corporate engagement - the Danish case of legislation and authority audit on plastic pellet loss - Danish Version here). The nurdles were found in lakes and in the surrounding grass and soil close to six out of eight companies sampled. Plastic pellets were found at sites that had committed to Operation Clean Sweep, an industry scheme designed to achieve zero pellet loss to the environment.


An issue across the supply chain

“These latest findings from Denmark make clear that pellets are leaking into the environment from a range of companies across the supply chain, as there are no primary producers in the country. We have been working on microplastics issues in collaboration with companies around the world since 2009, and are recommending that the plastics industry adopt a supply chain approach to tackling pellet loss that addresses behaviour by all those who manufacture, handle, or transport pellets, “said Elisabeth Whitebread, Programme Manager, Marine Plastics at Fauna & Flora International. “Not only would this dramatically cut marine plastic pollution, it can also benefit companies by improving production efficiency. We would be pleased to offer support to any company that is looking to make this positive change.”


"We are very surprised to learn that many companies apparently do not control their raw materials, especially now with the massive focus on plastic pollution. Plastic manufacturers often put the blame on consumers who cannot hit the trash bin. But this shows that industry should first sweep its own door,” said Henrik Beha Pedersen, Director of Plastic Change.


Simple steps to limit loss

Simple measures could help limit loss: Guidelines could stipulate that companies store pellets in strong containers that are safe and easy to transport, rather than bags that are easily split. Fitting drains with filters could help limit loss to environment if spills occur.
"We now expect the industry and its members to look inward and take their share of responsibility. We all have to make sure that plastic does not end up in the ocean - citizens and politicians as well as the industry," said Henrik Beha Pedersen.


Pellet pathways to harm

Plastic pellets are released in their billions into the world’s oceans each year. They are second-largest direct source of micro-plastic pollution to the ocean by weight. Nurdles can be spilled at production sites and are also lost during loading and unloading or in transport. These small and light plastic pellets are carried by wind or water into the environment, or are flushed out into drains which feed into the sea. Seabirds and fish are particularly vulnerable to plastic pellets as they look similar to fish eggs. Researchers regularly find pellets in the stomachs of marine animals. Plastic can get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract and make animals feel full of food when they are full of plastic, causing starvation.


Municipalities are obliged to conduct environmental inspections with companies if they comply with applicable rules. The challenge with plastics, including plastic raw material, is that it is not clearly covered by the Danish legislation about raw materials that companies are prohibited from losing to the environment.


For more information: Founder of Plastic Change, Henrik Beha Pedersen, +45 22881615 Elisabeth Whitebread, Programme Manager, Marine Plastics, Fauna & Flora International, +44 (0)1223 747642


Fidra’s work on pellets

Fidra have been working with industry to reduce plastic pellet loss since 2014. The Great Nurdle Hunt citizen science project has been vital in highlighting the levels of plastic pellet pollution, with volunteers invited to submit their pellet finds from around the world. Fidra and Fauna & Flora International have collaborated with all parts of industry to develop an approach which will make sure this issue is addressed right across supply chains. By working with The European Pellet Loss Coalition, convened by Fauna & Flora International, Fidra also connects with NGOs such as Plastic Change to make sure industry is taking proper steps to address this issue internationally.

Dr Madeleine Berg from Fidra adds:

‘’It is disappointing to see that even companies that have signed a pledge to limit loss of nurdles still have problems with plastic pellets escaping into the environment where they can harm wildlife. This is an issue which needs to be tackled right across the plastics supply chain. Our online Nurdle Map shows this is a global issue, and by adding further nurdle hunt reports we can show industry and governments the scale of this issue and that people want further action’’.