Microplastics are persistent, very mobile, and hard to remove from nature. They are found all over the world, even in the most remote locations, and in the human body. The risks related to high levels of human exposure are a cause of grave concern. Plastic pellets, also referred to as nurdles, nibs and resin pellets are the raw materials for all plastics. Due to their small size, during manufacturing or other processes, a fraction of those pellets can be spilled or lost to the environment. Currently, between 52 and 184 thousand tons of pellets are released into the environment each year due to mishandling throughout the entire supply chain making them ubiquitous in water, soil, including agricultural lands, causing harm to ecosystems and biodiversity.
On 16 October 2023, the Commission proposed for the first time measures to prevent microplastic pollution from the unintentional release of plastic pellets. The proposal aims to ensure that all operators handling pellets in the EU take the necessary precautionary measures, which is expected to reduce pellet release by up to 74%. This reduction is envisioned to contribute to cleaner ecosystems, fostering plastic-free rivers and oceans while mitigating potential risks to human health.
Plastic pellets are one of the largest sources of unintentional microplastic pollution. In line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the economic operators should bear the costs of the measures required to comply with the requirements and demonstrate compliance via third-party certification or self-declaration. The Commission proposed that operators act in the following priority order: prevention to avoid any spills of pellets; containment of spilled pellets to make sure they do not pollute the environment; and, as a final option, clean up after a spill or loss event. The proposal further describes best handling practices, mandatory certifications and self-declarations, a harmonized methodology to estimate losses and more lenient requirements for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The Commission is prioritizing the regulation of pellets among the different sources of microplastic pollution because it has already undertaken many actions to fight plastic pollution, both in the EU and internationally. This includes initiatives on plastic products such as single-use plastics and packaging, as well as measures on intentionally added microplastics in products.
The Commission's proposal for a Regulation on preventing pellet losses will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. It is now up to the Member States and the European Parliament to negotiate and approve draft measures. All economic operators, both EU and non-EU, will need to comply with the requirements set out in this Regulation within 18 months of its entry into force. This proposal marks the initial step toward reducing microplastics, with the EU aiming for a 30% decrease in microplastic pollution by 2030.