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10 • 15 • 2020

Federal Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act Introduced

By Jennie Romer

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. Less than 5 millimeters in size, these nurdles wash up on our shores and contaminate nearby ecosystems by absorbing and exuding chemical toxins. According to a 2016 report, an estimated total of 230,000 tons of pellets pollute the marine environment each year.

Last month, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the Pellet Free Waters Act (S.4681). 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.

“The plastic pollution crisis rears its ugly head at every step of the plastic supply chain, starting with small plastic manufacturing pellets infiltrating our waterways, parks and oceans,” said Sen. Udall, author of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. “Trillions of plastic pellets leak into our environment from lax plastic producers and shippers, and the problem is only getting worse as big oil corporations ramp up their investment in plastic as their path to future profit. It’s time to end the avalanche of plastic pellets damaging wildlife and the livelihoods of entire American communities that depend on healthy rivers, streams and beaches. We can put simple solutions into action today to prevent plastic pellets from continuing to pollute and damage our health—we have no more time to waste.” 

The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act carves out certain requirements regarding pellets included in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. The Act also builds upon a petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for regulation of pellets signed by 280 NGOs, including Surfrider, and a lawsuit against Formosa Plastics that resulted in a record-breaking $50 million settlement along with Formosa agreeing to comply with “zero discharge” of all plastics in the future. The Surfrider Foundation’s enthusiastic support for this federal legislation complements the work of our Coastal Bend chapter in Texas, which has been active in responding to proposed state standards for how nurdles are addressed in wastewater permits and has monitored nurdle pollution on beaches through the Nurdle Patrol

“The Pellet Free Waters Act builds upon the work that we have done on the Texas coast through documenting pellet pollution with the Nurdle Patrol and advocating for stricter regulations on pellets in our state,” said the Surfrider Foundation’s Coastal Bend chapter Vice Chair Neil McQueen, “Nobody wants to swim or surf in waters polluted by plastics, or catch a fish or eat an oyster that has ingested them. We're hopeful that this bill will set a higher bar for the plastics industry—throughout the entire country—so they keep their nurdles and other preproduction plastics out of  our waters and off our beaches.”  

You can support the Pellet Free Waters Act by signing our action alert. Also, be sure to check our campaign page for updates as the bill moves forward.