Two U.S. plastics industry groups are expanding their voluntary Operation Clean Sweep pellet spill containment program by adding more rigorous third-party auditing covering, for now, about 50 companies and more than 500 U.S. facilities.
The Plastics Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council launched Sept. 27 what they're calling OCS Blue Verification, adding a requirement for auditing of companies in the upper tier of the Operation Clean Sweep program, known as OCS Blue.
The groups said the move adds transparency to OCS, but it also comes as lawmakers in Congress continue their push for new rules that go beyond such voluntary efforts.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the majority whip in the U.S. Senate, and several other senators in July reintroduced the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency to write tougher regulations to prohibit pellet discharges by factories and in resin transport.
A version of that bill passed the House in 2021, after it was inserted in must-pass transportation legislation in that chamber but did not emerge in the final version out of the Senate.
The plastics groups, which argue that Durbin's plan is not needed because the Clean Water Act already contains provisions on pellet loss, said that the OCS Blue Verification will bring "a new level of rigor and transparency" to the program, with the aim of zero plastic resin and pellet loss.
"Preventing pre-production plastic from entering the environment is a top priority for [our] members and the entire industry," said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association. "OCS Blue Verification underscores this commitment and ensures all OCS Blue members are held to rigorous management practices while working towards a future where all plastic remains in the circular economy."
"America's plastic makers have led the charge to be good stewards in resin and pellet management," said Ross Eisenberg, president of America's Plastic Makers, a unit of ACC. "We are taking significant measures to increase transparency and knowledge sharing that will lead to safer, cleaner communities in the U.S. and abroad."
The plastics groups said that to become verified under OCS Blue, companies must implement 29 different management practices, including risk assessment, employee training and data reporting. ACC said the effort has five audit service companies handling the verification process.
ACC said OCS Blue participants started to develop the verification program in 2021 and ran pilots last year. The groups plan an Oct. 25 webinar to discuss the new effort.
OCS Blue will operate in three-year cycles, with the first verification running through the end of 2025 and the second cycle ending in 2028.
Some OCS programs in other countries and regions already have external inspection programs, including in Argentina, Brazil, Europe, Mexico, New Zealand and Turkey. There are about 3,300 companies in OCS programs globally.
In the U.S., there are about 200 companies that participate in Operation Clean Sweep, with about 50 companies with 500 facilities in the higher blue tier, ACC said.
That compares with little more than 12,000 plastics manufacturing locations in the U.S., with 84 percent of them making plastic products, according to a September report from the Plastics Industry Association. That 12,000 figure could include multiple locations in the same company.
Critics of the OCS programs say it should require much more public reporting of data and move toward being mandatory or finding ways to get more companies to participate, pointing to a lack of public data on what the program has accomplished since it started in 1991 in the U.S.
ACC, however, said OCS programs globally will publish their first annual report in 2024 demonstrating its impact in the more than 60 countries where Operation Clean Sweep operates.