Plastic pellets: the current picture
By weight, plastic pellets are estimated to be the second largest direct source of microplastic marine pollution; it is estimated that billions of individual pellets enter the ocean every year. This is due to both small and large-scale leakages and spillages occurring on land and sea during all stages of the supply chain – especially while they are in transit.
Because the pellets are so small, they can easily escape if not stored and handled properly and this results in smaller but chronic losses. Acute losses can also occur, however, for example, in May 2021, the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl caught fire and approximately 84 billion pellets were spilled off the ship into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka. This was an acute, incredibly damaging, incident.
Not only are plastic pellets becoming an eye sore on beaches around the world, they are inherently dangerous to wildlife. Often mistaken for food by marine life, pellets are regularly eaten or ingested, filling the stomachs of fish and animals and leading to starvation.
Worse yet, already hazardous due to the toxic additives they contain, plastic pellets act like a sponge, absorbing and accumulating bacteria and persistent environmental pollutants that are present in seawater. When pellets come into contact with or are eaten by marine animals, therefore, the toxins, chemicals and bacteria can potentially be transferred to the animal – effectively acting as a poisoned pill for marine life.