Winning the fight on plastic pollution requires recognition of its deep-rooted complexity and interlinkages with the consumer economy. As such, our international plastics campaign takes a broad view of plastic pollution and goes far beyond our work on global policy. While supporting our ultimate goal of a global agreement, we approach plastic pollution from a wider range of angles at both national and regional levels.
We focus on topic-specific issues of particular concern such as pre-production plastic pellets, bringing our experience with UK retailers into the international policy environment, and have led on advocacy around numerous revisions of EU environmental policy, including the Port Reception Facilities Directive, Single Use Plastics Directive, and the Waste Framework Directive, among others.
Plastic pellets (or ‘nurdles’) are the lentil-sized building blocks of the plastics industry that are melted and molded into virtually every plastic product in existence. Up to 230,000 tonnes leak into the environment every year, making them the second largest source of direct microplastic pollution. This pollution has a devastating yet poorly understood impact on wildlife and ecosystems. Their tiny size makes them extremely difficult to find and clean up, and due to their synthetic nature, persist in the environment for centuries.
Put simply, pellet pollution only exists because of poor handling practices. As such, it represents the ‘low hanging fruit’ of microplastic pollution, because all we need to put a stop to it is the plastics industry to use best-practice handling techniques and cleaning up accidental spills. However, robust legislation is needed to do this, which is why it forms the cornerstone of our pellets campaign. We are advocating for strong EU legislation to give permission to a ‘supply chain approach’ to pellet loss, that would essentially mean retailers and producers need to prove that best handling practices were used throughout the entire supply chain through a system of accreditations. We also provide more information on the supply chain approach pellet loss and our recommendations to the European Commission.
In January 2019, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposed a wide-ranging restriction on intentional uses of microplastics under its Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation. Under the current proposal, plastic pellets are derogated from any restriction, and would only have weak requirements for reporting and instructions on use and disposal (IFUD) with no additional requirements to reduce pellet loss on site or across the supply chain. In our new briefing, we challenge the EU Commission to enable the development of a dedicated EU Regulation on Plastic Pellet Loss by strengthening proposed reporting and labelling requirements under REACH. See our briefing here for more information.
Over the years, we have worked on multiple pieces of European legislation, advocating before the European Commission, European Parliament, and Member States and in Brussels and beyond.
This includes working on the revisions to the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) and Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) to reduce and improve management of plastic waste. It also includes, more recently, the Single-Use Plastics Directive and Port Reception Facilities (PRF) Directive to address the top plastic items found on beaches, including fishing gear, and improve the collection of plastic waste at ports and from ships.
The focus of these efforts is now on proper implementation. Together with the Rethink Plastic Alliance we have produced an implementation guide for policymakers on curbing sea-based sources of plastic pollution and another on moving away from single-use plastics.
We base our campaigns on the most pressing environmental issues and concerns. Dependent on this is an understanding of developments in the scientific world to draw upon evidence to inform our asks to decision-makers. We regularly review scientific studies to ensure that our advocacy is based on the most up to date and relevant information.
We invite you to follow us through our blog series to investigate how new information is informing our understanding of plastic’s impact on the planet, and explore the interface between science and policy as a means to better inform decision-making processes.
In the first blog, EIA’s Ocean Campaigner Tom Gammage discusses the implications of a recent scientific study that was the first to investigate microplastic pollution in Antarctic sea ice.