Operation Sweep the Creek: Taking action against plastic pellet pollution

There are many sources of plastic pollution, some of which are not your typical bottle or straw. One less familiar source of plastic pollution is pre-production pellets. Pellets are used in the manufacturing stages of a plastic product’s lifecycle and are typically characterized by their distinctive spherical/cylindrical shape and 2-5mm size. During plastic production, pellets are melted down and injected or extruded into molds to form a desired product.


During some operations, such as shipping and transporting, their light weight and small size makes them vulnerable to loss. Thus, during operations, pellets can be emitted into the environment without extra precaution. When coupled with precipitation events, pellets are swept into freshwater bodies through runoff from storm and waste water channels. Without proper containment strategies, these pellets eventually accumulate in larger bodies of water and contribute to larger masses of plastic contamination.

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As a result, studies have shown the presence of pre-production pellets on Canadian shorelines and in tributaries. Researchers have also demonstrated a positive correlation between the presence of plastics-related companies and the quantity of pellets found in the environment.

In collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP), and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), we quantified and characterized pellets in the field and are collaborating with industry stakeholders to reduce emissions. To read more about our study and what we believe may be effective next steps, see our newly published paper.

Through this project, we hope to demonstrate the following:

  1. A success story showing collaboration between different stakeholders such as academia, government, and industry to demonstrate sustainability stewardship.
  2. A reduction in pellets emissions in Mimico Creek after implementing outreach initiatives.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact Nicholas through email at Nicholas.tsui@mail.utoronto.ca.

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