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.

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.

We want to see good practice implemented by all companies handling plastic pellets throughout the plastics supply chain; from producer to product manufacturer and all stages in between.

Fidra have been working on solutions over the past 8 years, exploring the route of Supply Chain Accreditation as a way to achieve this change. Through our The Great Nurdle Hunt project, we have also learned about the approaches of other organisations internationally working toward the same goal. Check out our summary page below to find out more about a range of solutions.

Want to find out more? 

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.

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.

The Great Nurdle Hunt logo

More detail…

What is the Supply Chain Approach?

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.

Standards and Certification Schemes

The Supply Chain Accreditation approach relies on the development of standards and certification schemes, alongside additional measures to ensure uptake across the full plastics industry:

  • The standards build on guidelines such as Operation Clean Sweep to create a clear and auditable checklist of requirements that a company must follow to implement best practice at their sites. For example, ensuring that staff are trained and that effective equipment and procedures are in place to stop pellet loss.
  • The certification scheme means that companies can be audited by an external independent auditor on the requirements of the standard. Where companies pass they can display their certificate (e.g. on a public register of companies), giving others in the supply chain, regulators and the public assurance that they are handling pellets responsibly.


Setting out our expectations for an effective Supply Chain Approach

As different standards and certification schemes are already being developed, we are focused on ensuring these are as effective as possible, and that any parallel projects are comparable and compatible with each other.

Read more: In the following documents, developed together with Fauna & Flora International we set out our minimum requirements for standards and certification schemes. Download the separate 2-pager documents below.


To make sure companies have the incentive to certify their pellet handling, there must be drivers in place for uptake in place. Demand could come from retailers, brands, investors or even the general public. However, at Fidra we consider legislation is likely to be the best way to ensure a level playing field, with all companies taking part.

Read more: Together with organisations working across Europe, we are calling for legislation to ensure a supply chain approach reaches all companies across the supply chain. The policy briefing available to download below sets out a regulatory approach to tackling pellet loss across the EU.

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.


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 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