Let’s talk online: About preventing plastic pollution with Jérémy Fouriau
What steps is the plastics industry taking to help address its contributions to environmental pollution? Is there anything plastic producers can do to help reduce plastic pollution from the very beginning? Join Michael as he sits down with Jérémy Fouriau from PlasticsEurope to talk about how small steps can make a big impact.
ML (Michael Londesborough): Jérémy Fouriau works at PlasticsEurope, and his goal is to achieve zero plastic pellet loss to the environment. To achieve this, he is rolling out in Europe Operation Clean Sweep. And today, I’ll be speaking to Jeremy about the goals of OCS and how it’s gonna be implemented. So, come with me and let’s talk about it.
ML: Jeremy, hello and welcome to Let’s talk online. Thank you very much for coming along. At Let’s talk about it, we’re very much interested in the circular economy, in particular with a focus on plastics and how plastics will fit into that new economic model. And therefore, as somebody who’s working on the implementation of Operation Clean Sweep, that’s gonna play a significant role into working with plastics into the circular economy. So, I’m gonna begin with simply asking you what are the main goals of Operation Clean Sweep?
JF (Jérémy Fouriau): Well thank you, Michael, for the invitation. On Operation Clean Sweep, I will call it OCS, so it’s easier to understand.
So the main goal of OCS is really to achieve zero pellet loss. So you have to know, that within the plastics industry, we are producing pellets, it’s a raw material, that will become plastic objects. The project OCS was developed first in the US, quite some time ago, and now, since 2015, we in PlasticsEurope are the main host of the program in Europe. So we are encouraging member companies to join the OCS project and to achieve zero pellet loss.
ML: So tell me a little bit about the scope of this project. I mean, how many companies here in Europe are involved in the production, the transportation, the use of plastic pellets?
JF: So in total, if you look at the whole plastics industry in Europe, we are talking about 60 000 companies, so 60 thousand potential companies, that could join the OCS project. If you look at production, I would say we have around a 100 companies, production sites, in all the countries in Europe, and the rest 50 thousand of converters, 10 thousand of transport and logistics operators.
ML: Okay, and when you mention zero pellet loss, I’m taking for granted that means zero pellet loss into our environment. So this is very much a move to help to make sure that we are cleaning our environmental approach to our use of plastics. So that’s a wide matter in itself. So that fits into all sorts of other recycling strategies using plastic waste, for example… So tell me a bit more about, in context, how much of a problem are plastic pellets to our environment?
JF: Yea, that’s a very complex issue actually, the parameters you mentioned. So plastic is obviously very resistant in the environment… we see all the time in the news that we find plastics in the environment. If you look at studies, for instance, there are some saying that amongst all plastics found in the ocean, around 2% of that are plastic pellets. So you see, it’s really an area where the plastics industry has a direct control, and therefore the importance of the OCS program. So that we can tackle those 2% and reduce the impact of the industry on the environment.
ML: And so far, what’s been the level of awareness of this fact, that up to 2% of plastic pollution of our oceans are pellets? Are the companies who are producing and using the pellets, are they aware of that?
JF: Yes, so at the moment, to give you some figures, we have around 1,400 companies within the scheme, so a very big amount of companies committed to achieve zero pellet loss. Of course, if you remember, I mentioned the 60 thousand potential companies… But if you look at volumes, for instance, I can already tell you that all members of PlasticsEurope, so the producers of raw materials, are within the program. So a 100% of all members of the production in Europe is already part of the project here in Europe.
So it’s really a matter of importance of mindset and culture within companies, but more and more we see these shifts coming from the plastics industry.
ML: Okay, so your experience is that management of these companies are very much keen to meet you halfway into being positive and have a positive nature and attitude towards joining the OCS. And working with you.
JF: Yes, you’re right. So we see this big mindset shift from the plastics industry. This new thinking about the environment and the importance to show that we as an industry care, that it’s not only about citizens doing efforts, but also the industry. And for Operation Clean Sweep, OCS, we see that coming as well. And every year, for instance, we double the number of signatories. So it really shows that companies want to care and show their commitment towards the environment.
ML: Okay, but before we move on to that, I’d like to just ask a couple of questions about the physicality of plastic pellets. I mean what sort of sizes are there, and what sort of volumes are we talking about. You know, how many plastic pellets are used by certain companies… any details like that.
JF: Yes. So you have to know that… to give you some context. So the pellets are really used in the production sites, in order to transform them into the objects of everyday that we use. In terms of size, they are shaped and produced so that we use as little energy as possible. You know, also to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry. In terms of size, we are talking about 2 millimeters up to 5 millimeters. So you see they are very small and sometimes very difficult to capture. Hence why we have developed all kinds of best practices in order to prevent their spillage into the environment.
ML: Okay, so prevent spillage into the environment, signatories to the OCS scheme, let’s talk a bit about how you are implementing your strategy into cleaning up this… into achieving zero pellet loss.
JF: Yes, so maybe one additional element to mention in addition to the size - you have to know that for one kilogram of plastics, we usually say that you need 50 thousand pellets. So just to give you the scale of what we are talking about.
ML: So we are talking about many millions of pellets.
JF: Exactly, because we have, you know, production sites producing 500 million tons of plastics every year, so it’s quite impressive, the amount of pellets that the companies are managing.
ML: So Jeremy, tell me a bit about how we monitor these pellets - how we can follow them, how do we find out where we’re losing them and then how do we clean them up?
JF: Well basically, as a host of the program, PlasticsEurope is really working together with all members. So we are organizing some best practice sharing. Because the main goal of the program is really the prevention - we want to avoid that the plastic pellets end up in the environment. So that’s why we’re working together with the companies in order to implement new equipment for better containment, we are also working on training employees, to show that we as a whole family, of the whole PlasticsEurope family, we care. We create awareness and also, we include not only PlasticsEurope members, but the whole value chain. Also, we are working not only on best practice sharing, but you know, common industry goals. To give you one example, we are working on the development of an OCS certification scheme for the future.
ML: So tell me a little bit about this certificate… the OCS certificate. What does a company have to do in order to become a signatory to this certificate and what are the obligations they sign up to?
JF: So basically, we, together with the full value chain, we are developing this OCS certification scheme… it will be ready by the first of January 2022. How will it work in practice? So basically we have developed together with the rest of the value chain a set of minimum requirements, that companies will have to meet in order to be OCS compliant and therefore certified.
So, it means that in practice, if you run a facility producing plastics, or converting plastics, transporting plastics, you will have third party auditors come to your site during an external audit and if you can successfully show that you’re meeting the minimum requirements of OCS, you will receive the OCS certificate.
ML: And tell me a little bit about the benefits of holding a certificate of this sort to the producers. Will it then be preferable to do business with them for consumers of their product or how does it work?
JF: Well basically, you have to know that in the beginning, this program is voluntary, and so we really were putting the emphasis on creating awareness around the project. Now we are bringing the whole program into another step. This time it’s really about showing and demonstrating commitment. So signing a paper is good, but now companies really need to demonstrate their commitment, with an external audit, with an external auditor.
ML: Okay, so these are not just hollow words. This is a proper on-paper certification and also commitment. That’s fantastic.
Well tell me, Jeremy, you know, how urgent is this implementation in your op… what can we expect looking forward. What will be the benefits to society here in Europe?
JF: Well as I said, the certification scheme will be up and running by the 1st of January 2022. For PlasticsEurope, we will give three years for members in order to be certified. So, as soon as the scheme exists, we will give three years for members to demonstrate their compliance with the program. Same goes for the rest of the industry - we really encourage them to join, not only the OCS program, but the whole OCS certification scheme, and as a result, I can tell you that companies will be able to demonstrate their commitment and it will be good for the environment. Because you will have external stakeholders really looking around on production sites to make sure that companies are meeting the requirements of this very strict program.
ML: And of course, if they meet the requirements, then we can look forward to zero pellet loss and potentially a 2% reduction in the plastic waste that’s going into our water systems.
JF: Yes, you are right Michael. I mean, the 2% comes directly from the industry, and that’s where we really have a direct impact as an industry. So that’s where all the efforts in the moment, on pellet loss, are - it’s really on prevention to avoid finding plastics in the oceans.
ML: Well, Jeremy from PlasticsEurope, may I wish you all the best in all your efforts and collaborations with the whole industry on Operation Clean Sweep. And thank you for all your work and for joining us. Bye bye.
JF: Thank you, Michael. Bye bye.