10 • 15 • 2020

Pass the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act

The Federal Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act (S.4681) would prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic materials.

Current law allows plastic producers and shippers to discharge trillions of small pre-production plastic pellets — “nurdles” — directly into waters with little to no enforcement. Thus far, enforcement has relied upon high-profile litigation against specific companies. 

These tiny granules of plastic — less than 5 millimeters in size — are a huge risk to our ecosystems. According to a 2016 report, 230,000 tons of pre-production plastic pellets pollute the marine environment each year. About 22,000 plastic pellets are found in a single pound, meaning trillions of pellets are scattered into the environment every year. They are often mistaken for fish eggs or other food by sea life and birds, and can lead to malnourishment and death. These nurdles are increasingly found at beach cleanups, notably in Texas

In July 2019, the Surfrider Foundation was one of 280 environmental, public health, and community groups that petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor and prevent plastic pellet pollution, and to implement a zero-discharge standard for pellets.

In December 2019, state environmental activists in Texas, won a record-breaking $50 million settlement against Formosa Plastics — the largest settlement ever in a citizen clean-water-suit — along with Formosa agreeing to comply with “zero discharge” of all plastics in the future.

In March 2020 in South Carolina, two citizens groups filed a pellet case in March against Frontier Logistics, a major shipper of resin pellets, for a significant spill the year before in Charleston Harbor, along with smaller spills. In August 2020, a cargo ship on the Mississippi River in New Orleans was involved in a major pellet spill, further complicated by confusion over which federal or state agency is responsible for responding. Far more often, however, pellets leak from negligent or lax control at industrial and transportation sites due to a failure of federal or state oversight officials to enforce pellet practices and loose industry self-policing. Citizen lawsuits have been necessary because federal and state authorities have failed to act. 

On September 24, 2020, Sen. Udall introduced the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act (S.4681). Pulling text directly from the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, an existing piece of federal legislation that Surfrider supports with a campaign. The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act requires the EPA to finalize a rule within 60 days to:

  • Prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets or other pre-production plastic materials from facilities and sources that make, use, package, or transport those materials; and;

  • Update all existing permits and standards of performance to reflect those prohibitions.

In October 2020, Surfrider launched our campaign in support of the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act.

The Surfrider Foundation encourages our members and supporters to contact their federal elected officials and urge them to support the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act (S.4681). You can take action in support of the bill right now by signing our action alert


Plastic Pollution