PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

It’s good to have standards

A new standard for companies handling pellets

Companies handling industrial pellets (or nurdles) have a new tool in their toolbox to tackle pellet pollution. Launched today, a new publicly available specification (PAS) provides a detailed checklist of procedures and processes that companies should follow to minimise the risk of pellet spills to the environment. This standard is the first of its kind and has been developed by a cross-stakeholder steering group, including Fidra and other environmental NGOs alongside regulators and industry.

The standard goes beyond the current industry-led voluntary solution, Operation Clean Sweep, in several ways. Firstly, the specification clearly and systematically spells out requirements for risk assessment and management procedures to prevent pollution, including leadership, training, operations in a way that implements multiple levels of protection to prevent pollution. Secondly, the specification is fully auditable, meaning external inspectors can easily check pellet pollution prevention on sites. Furthermore, requirements for regular audits and re-assessments, communication across supply chains and transparent reporting of improvements ensure greater credibility and accountability than have been in place for OCS, which has a one-off sign-up process.

For any companies wishing to systematically improve pellet handling practices or show credibly that they are already practicing effective pollution prevention, the PAS 510 is a unique new tool to achieve this.

Download the PAS 510 for free from the BSI website today.


Photo credit: Colleen Hughson

What’s next?

Our vision of a supply chain solution to pellet pollution calls for a culture shift across supply chains to ensure that wherever pellets are handled, there are steps in place to prevent pollution. The creation of this standard is a crucial step toward achieving this goal.

The PAS provides a standardised mechanism for companies to check they have procedures in place to prevent pellet pollution. At Fidra, we think the next step toward an effective solution is to make sure companies are externally checked, by independent auditors, to verify that they have best practice in place – certified best practice. This will let retailers and others placing plastic products on the market check their supply chains are doing everything they can to prevent pellet pollution. Furthermore, we see legislation as key to ensuring that this best practice is implemented industry-wide. Find out more about our vision of the supply chain approach here.

Learn more about our project:

For the past 7 years, Fidra’s The Great Nurdle Hunt has been raising awareness of industrial pellet pollution on the coastlines of Scotland and beyond. These tiny plastic pellets are used to make almost all our plastic products and are transported around the world in their trillions across complex international supply chains. Tiny and lightweight, mishandling risks spills, and if spills are not cleaned up immediately, this leads to loss to the environment. From occasional, devastating spill events at sea, to chronic trickles down drains on land, losses add up to make these the second largest source of primary microplastic pollution to the marine environment globally.

Our nurdle hunt allows volunteers to hunt for nurdles on beaches worldwide and report them to our map. So far we’ve had more than 5000 volunteers, supported by more than 60 organisations across 50 countries hunt for nurdles. Over 80% of hunts have found nurdles, with many locations worldwide reporting shocking levels of pollution.

We use the evidence collected by volunteers to engage with industry and decision-makers to tackle pellet pollution at source. Fidra has been calling for greater transparency and accountability across the plastics supply chain, ensuring effective best practice is in place and externally verified wherever pellets are handled. We’ve also been learning about different approaches to tackle pellet pollution globally and are working with NGOs internationally to keep up pressure to develop co-ordinated solutions.

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