All plastics start off as so-called pellets. These plastic particles in various shapes (spherical, ellipsoidal or cubes), sizes (micrometers up to some 3-5 millimeters) and materials ( various plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene or premixed types with for example additives like flame retardants) are transported by the suppliers to the processing plants and are formed into the final products there.
Pellets are lost during transport and during the further processing. These often get into areas from which they hit surface water via rain or the sewerage system via the effluents from the company. From there they get into the oceans via the river systems. Some complete loads are lost during the sea transport with a lost container bringing enormous quantities of pellets into the seas in one go. In the meantime there is not a beach worldwide on which pellets have not been found.
Professor Takada, a scientist in the discipline organic chemistry at the university of Tokyo, analyses samples of pellets in his „Pellet Watch Project“ which volunteers have collected worldwide and sent to him. His analyses deal with contaminants which adhere to the pellets. He has concluded that the concentration of contaminants on the surface of pellets can be up to a million times the concentration in the surrounding salt water. He has prepared global maps showing the concentration of contaminants within their global distribution. 1)
The response by industry, responsible for the contamination of the oceans by microplastics has been very restrained. Some programmes are being developed to suggest to companies how they can avoid pellet losses. However we are a long way from universal information covering the total work process around plastics or from regulations covering the processing of pellets. On the global level a lot more cooperation is needed as we now know exactly how pellets get into the oceans.