EU Commission proposes measures to reduce pollution from plastic pellets

Almost impossible to catch, the body focuses on preventing losses

The European Union’s commitment to combating environmental pollution caused by companies and consumers continues. With the latest proposed regulation, the EU Commission is targeting microplastic pollution resulting from the involuntary release of plastic pellets.

“It is estimated that they are lost every year between 52 and 184 thousand tons of pellets (2019 data)” informs the study accompanying the proposal, which goes on to explain what makes this type of waste particular: “Once in the environment, pellets are almost impossible to capture, are extremely mobile and known to be eaten by a variety of organisms and animals, causing damage to biodiversity and ecosystems and potentially to human health. The pellets can disintegrate into smaller particles, which could cause even more damage due to their higher number and smaller size.”

[Fonte: Commissione Unione Euopea]

The Commission’s intervention is based on the observation that this type of pollution is, for the most part, avoidable given that pellet losses occur at every stage of the supply chain (producers, converters, recyclers, transport and storage providers, stations tank cleaning) mainly due to poor pellet management practices.

The Commission explains that microplastics are persistent, very mobile and difficult to remove. They intrude even in the most remote places and in the human body and the risks associated with high levels of human exposure are of grave concern. In laboratory tests, microplastics have been shown to cause damage to human cells, including both allergic reactions and cell death.

What does the plan against microplastics include?

The Commission’s proposal invites operators to follow a specific order of priority: prevention, containment and possibly cleaning in the event of spills or leaks.

The guidelines of the proposal include:

Effective handling practices: operators, based on the size of their installations or transport activities, are required to adopt the best handling practices to prevent unwanted dispersions;

Mandatory certification and self-declarations: in order to facilitate national authorities in verifying compliance, larger operators are required to obtain a certificate issued by independent third-party bodies. Smaller companies, however, must submit a self-declaration of compliance;

Harmonized system for monitoring leaks: Standards bodies will develop a harmonized methodology for estimating losses, providing operators with more effective tools to monitor and reduce losses. This approach aims to raise awareness of the impact that different practices have on the environment and human health;

Requirements adapted to SMEs: considering that many small and medium-sized enterprises are involved in the supply chain of plastic granules, lighter requirements are introduced especially for micro and small operators, promoting responsibility in a way proportionate to the company size.

The Commission’s proposal for a regulation on the prevention of pellet losses will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. All economic operators, both European and non-European, must comply with the requirements set out in this Regulation within 18 months of its entry into force.

The Commission is committed to continuing its work to reduce microplastic pollution, including in the context of implementing existing and future legislation on products and waste.