Tackling nurdle pollution at source

 

We are working to stop nurdle loss into seas for good.  

Thousands of people are logging nurdle finds on beaches for Fidra’s Great Nurdle Hunt. This shows how widespread this plastic pollution is, and how many people care about the damaging effects nurdles have on our beaches, seas and wildlife.  

Using the data gathered by our volunteers, we work with industry, companies and decision makers to find practical solutions to this pollution problem. Our work on plastic pellets spans policy, research and the practical steps industry can take to limit loss of nurdles in Scotland, the UK and beyond.  

 

What are Nurdles?

 

Nurdles are the raw material for almost all of our plastic products. The industrial term for a ‘nurdle’ is a raw material plastic pellet.  They are tiny disc– or lentil-shaped pellets, weighing a fraction of a gram and measuring 5mm or less. With over 300 million tonnes of plastic being created every year globally, countless trillions of pellets are produced and transported around the world, then melted down to make anything from plastic bottles to wheelie bins. 

How do they end up on our beaches? 

Because they are so tiny, nurdles are easily spilled. This can happen at any stage of handling or transport. Though some nurdles may be spilled directly into the sea (for example from container ships during storms)pellets are often loswhen spills on land are not cleaned up properly. Wherever they are lost, nurdles can ultimately find their way to the sea through storm drains and waterways.   Spills may be a fraction of a percentage of nurdles handled by a company, but given the scale of the industry and how long nurdles last these spills are adding up to a to a flood of nurdles entering the marine environment. Although they’re small and easy to overlook, our volunteers have discovered nurdles in huge numbers on shorelines all around the world. 

 

The Solution

 

Companies handling pellets don’t aim to lose their raw material. Often, basic good housekeeping within industry means most pellets are cleaned up if there are spills inside their facilities. However, outside the facility and on the forecourt there are less stringent procedures. Due to the nature and size of nurdles, even a tiny, trickle from a single site can add up to a flood entering the environment from across the entire industry.

The plastics industry has created a best practice scheme, Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), to try to tackle the issue. Companies can sign up to the scheme, committing to zero pellet loss from their facilities. OCS provides a comprehensive set of guidelines to help companies make sure no pellets are lost from their site. If implemented, OCS provides a good starting point. However industry still needs to do more. Currently, signing up to OCS is voluntary and there are no checks on companies to make sure they are following through with their promise after signing up. Nearly 30 years after OCS was created, pellets are still being lost in their billions.

The solution is to build upon the OCS toolkit and ensure its best practice measures are implemented by all companies handling plastic pellets throughout the plastics supply chain; from producer to product manufacturer and all stages in between. This is why we are calling for a Supply Chain Approach to tackle the issue of pellet loss.

For more on this approach and our work addressing the industry solutions download our Supply Chain Approach briefing here (coming soon).

What is Fidra doing?

 

We have been working with industry, trade associations, NGOs and decision makers at regional, national and international levels to work towards a pellet supply chain free of pellet pollution.

  • We are members of a cross-stakeholder steering group organised by The Scottish Government to develop active trials of a supply chain approach to pellet loss
  • We are participating as technical experts in international stakeholder workshops about pellet pollution, organised by the OSPAR convention, who represent countries of the North Sea area
  • We have taken part in workshops as part of European Commission investigations into the pellet pollution problem and solutions. The European Plastics Strategy, published in 2017, includes a specific commitment to ‘tackle pellet loss from industrial sources’
  • Fidra helped launch Stewart Investor’s UNPRI collaborative shareholder engagement on pellet loss, providing technical support and advice. 45 asset owners, running over $2 trillion assets under management are collaborating to ask leading companies handling, using and transporting pellets to introduce mandatory auditing and reporting around pellet loss.needs to be implemented by all companies handling plastic pellets to stop pellet pollution for good.

The Great Nurdle Hunt

 

The Great Nurdle Hunt is Fidra’s flagship project working to end nurdle pollution. We provide the tools and information so that anyone can contribute to, and build evidence of, this issue. By working with individuals and organisations worldwide, we can highlight the extent of nurdle pollution and show that the people care.

Find out more about The Great Nurdle Hunt

The Great Nurdle Hunt logo

More detail…

Alongside a growing number of industry bodies, national governments and intergovernmental panels, we are calling for a new approach to tackling pellet loss across the plastics supply chain. All companies that handle plastic pellets should implement best practice measures as standard – from petrochemical producers creating billions of pellets an hour, to those transporting pellets across the world, to microbusinesses buying bags of pellets to make products. these companies need a way to prove that they are handling pellets responsibly. This is the only way that consumers can make sure the plastic we buy isn’t contributing to pellet pollution.

Our vision for a plastics supply chain free of pellet loss is that:

  • All companies use best practice to contain pellets as standard, reaching all parts of the supply chain
  • All staff are trained to exceptionally high standards to prevent pellet loss, taking ownership of spills
  • Companies are checked regularly by independent auditors and provide transparent progress reports.
  • Companies work together across the supply chain to ensure and demonstrate best practice
  • Industry is more transparent and accountable

We believe this vision is realistic and achievable if regulators (governments and policy makers) work proactively with industry, to develop effective legislation that builds on voluntary measures.

Together with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), we have created a briefing to describe our vision for an effective supply chain approach.

 

Fidra focuses on pragmatic solutions to reduce pellet pollution, and we spent several years engaging directly with the plastics industry in our local area to encourage sign-up to this scheme.  Positive dialogue with a number of companies with excellent pellet containment measures allowed us to create Case Studies of best practice to share with others. Many of these companies continue to work with us as we develop solutions across the industry supply chain.

John Mitchell Haulage and warehousing:

One of the largest family owned haulage companies in Scotland, John Mitchell Ltd. have been distributing plastic pellets throughout the UK for the past 50 years.

They signed up for OCS in January 2016. They were recently featured with Fidra in a Transport News article about nurdles, where Iain Mitchell, managing director stated:

“We’ve always encouraged good housekeeping and Operation Clean Sweep mitres into this established ethos nicely… When you see the environmental cost of plastic pellet spills, Operation Clean Sweep is no longer an encouraged discipline, it’s a critical discipline”

Download full case study.

The Glendale Group 

“The Glendale Group produce plastic products and packaging that use nurdles in our manufacturing processes. We take our duty to protect the environment very seriously and are committed to ensuring that there is zero pellet loss from any of our sites. Operation Clean Sweep helps us communicate awareness and monitor the effectiveness of our procedures to help keep pellets out of the natural environment.”

Download full case study.

Thredgards

A plastics manufacturer specialising in injection moulding. Thredgards have incorporated OCS into the work they are doing for their ISO14001 environmental management systems.

Download full case study.

 

Brand-Rex

Brand-Rex is a leading developer of cabling solutions for network infrastructure and industrial applications.

Established in 1972, in Glenrothes, Scotland, where the company’s head office remains today, Brand-Rex has been dedicated to delivering world class network infrastructure solutions to support business-critical needs for over 40 years. Today Brand-Rex employs over 300 staff and has 10 global offices and a presence in over 50 countries worldwide.

In 2011 Brand-Rex became the world’s first network infrastructure solutions provider to achieve carbon neutral status; Brand-Rex recognises it has a responsibility to ensure its solutions are manufactured responsibly and where possible using sustainable energy sources and materials.

Download full case study.

If you’d like to find out more about our project to stop pellet pollution, please get in touch with us via info@fidra.org.uk