Plastic pellets, or nurdles, are the raw material of the plastics manufacturing industry. They are commonly found in beach and river clean ups. The plastic manufacturing industry in Aotearoa New Zealand identified this as a key issue for their members to address.

Recognising that problems in current practices meant that plastic was leaking into the environment, the industry decided to implement Operation Clean Sweep® – the international best-practice guidance for the plastics industry that is designed to prevent the flow of plastics to the environment. The aim is zero pellet, flake or powder loss to our waterways.

Local implementation of this global initiative has been driven by the plastics industry body, Plastics NZ, since 2015. Rather than just allow companies to sign up and commit to following best practice, Plastics NZ were the first in the world to implement an audit program for Operation Clean Sweep®. Companies are required to demonstrate that they have the correct measures in place to prevent pellet, flake and powder loss before they are considered compliant. So far, 87 companies have been audited, and 66 of those have achieved best practice in stormwater protection, out of roughly 300 plastics companies.

The industry is aiming for all local plastics manufacturers to gain accreditation to prevent plastic loss to the environment. The next step is work with the freight industry to ensure that measures are in place to prevent leakage at all points of the supply chain.

A similar approach could be taken in other industries where environmental leakage of plastics is known to be a problem, such as construction and fisheries.

Plastic pellets used to manufacture plastic products washed up at Evans Bay, Wellington. Operation Clean Sweep® puts measures in place to prevent this leakage. Photo credit: Phil Clunies-Ross.

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