SAS campaigners have focused their attention on plastic and polystyrene pellets. These are the very raw materials that many of today’s plastic products are moulded from, yet millions of them are being deposited around the UK’s coastline.
Little more than a few millimetres in diameter, the pellets, which have been nicknamed ‘mermaids tears’ by campaigners, are the second most common litter item found on UK beaches (Marine Conservation Society’s 2007 Beachwatch data). By their very nature they do not biodegrade, absorb harmful polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in concentrations up to a million times greater than the surrounding seawater and they can also be a deadly threat to sea life, which mistake them for food.
Mermaids Tears Stop Falling
This campaign recently won the 2010 Coast Award for the Best Blue Green Marine Project.
These plastic pellets, known as mermaids tears, are used in the manufacturing of plastic products. SAS identified these plastic pellets as a major source of pollution on UK beaches, and after a little undercover work in plastic factories, we also identified a route from plastic factories to the beach, via the storm drains. Check out the great covert film in plastic factories on SAS TV.
In 2007, armed with this strong body of evidence and 10,000 mermaids tears (that we collected from a single Cornish beach), we escorted a couple of sad mermaids to a British Plastics Federation (BPF) conference to expose the problem these tiny plastic pellets are causing. We set up a beach scene outside the BPFs conference in Londons city center and challenge them and their members to protect the environment. To their credit, the BPF reacted positively and took our challenge to international plastic conferences. There they discovered plastic manufacturers on the West coast of the States suffered from the same problem, but also had a solution. The BPFs American counterparts had put together a useful guidance document on how achieve zero pellet loss. Obviously it needed translating into the Queens English and modification for UK factory regulations, but the bones of the document were there.
Initially, the BPF had moved swiftly on this issue and we were happy with their commitment however they suddenly and unexpectedly slowed. We had planned various releases of the UK version of the guidance but at the last minute we were met with excuse after excuse from the BPF to delay the release. Sick and tired of waiting, we took it upon ourselves and released a version of this new guidance to one of the southwests largest plastic manufacturers, Contico Plastics. Contico immediately saw the benefit of this guidance. Not only could they improve their environmental performance, but also save money by reducing the loss of mermaids tears, a costly raw material.
Once we had the first factory signed up we called on the BPF to unveil their version to their members, over 80% of the UKs plastic manufacturers. We finally teamed up with the BPF to release the new guidance nationally on June 5th 2009, World Environment Day.
The new guidance promotes better house keeping methods within plastic factories, to ensure that during every process mermaid’s tears go through, escapes are minimised, and any lost pellets are recaptured and reused. A great campaign victory for SAS and our beaches, and delivering improved efficiency for UK plastic factories, a win-win situation!