The plastics industry's longtime voluntary program to fight pellet leakage from its factories, known as Operation Clean Sweep, is facing new pressure from governments and environmental groups.
Amid heightened concern about plastic waste in the environment, they argue that OCS needs to modernize by giving the public much more data about resin spills and move toward becoming mandatory, rather than voluntary, or find other ways to get more companies to participate.
Industry groups say they are looking at some changes. The American Chemistry Council, for example, said there are "early stage" talks about bringing OCS under the wing of the chemical industry's more demanding Responsible Care program.
The latest push for tougher action on pellet pollution came Jan. 10, with the green investor group As You Sow announcing it had filed shareholder resolutions against Chevron, DowDuPont, ExxonMobil and Phillips 66 asking for annual reports on resin spills and efforts to prevent them.
There are other, more high-profile calls for action: Both the European Union's plastics strategy and the G7 bloc's plastics charter in 2018 highlighted resin pellet pollution from factories as an important problem to tackle. Both reports pushed a so-called "whole supply chain" approach to fighting pellet pollution.
In practice, that approach can mean outside certification and some public reporting that OCS currently lacks.
Some environmental groups who have studied OCS say that while the program is good at providing best practices, keeping it voluntary has meant that only "front-running companies" sign up, which limits the impact because many companies, particularly smaller ones, can avoid participating.
"The voluntary nature of the scheme, lack of external auditing and reporting from companies signed up means it's impossible to know if the scheme is truly effective," said Madeline Berg, a marine plastics project manager with Fidra, an environmental charity based in North Berwick, Scotland. "We're certain that a legislative push will be needed to level the playing field and make sure all companies follow suit."