There are a number of concerns surrounding the transport of microplastic pellets, but whilst the debate rages as to how to mitigate the risks to the maritime ecosystem, those arising through the entire freight supply chain need to be recognised, so says TT Club in a recent highlight.
According to Josh Finch, TT Club Logistics Risk Manager, microplastic pellets, often referred to as nurdles, form the building blocks used in the production of most plastic products. They typically measure just a few millimetres in diameter – about the size of a lentil. The release of nurdles into the sea, other waterways or the environment in general have severe ecological implications, since the pellets may be eaten by fish or other sea creatures, as well as by birds.
Reports have surfaced recently of insects and microbes that have evolved to consume plastic, but may naturally be consumed by birds and small mammals.
Once a spill has taken place, nurdles can rapidly be dispersed in water due to their small size, resulting in complex and costly clean-up efforts. The maritime industry is rightly focused on ways to make such events less likely, although there are uncertainties over how this can best be done.
According to the TT Club, there are several different packaging methods to consider with the transport of microplastic pellets.
– Tank containers
– Dry bulk containers
– Cardboard boxes with plastic lining
– Polypropylene sacks (25kg-1,000kg)
– Large cloth bags
– Intermediate bulk containers and drums
Apart from the risks to the marine environment, other risks exist through the transport and storage supply chain.
Stability: Certain packagings, in particular large bags stored on pallets, can become unstable and have a tendency to shift during transit, including during sea voyages. Additionally, bags often split due to the shifting weight of the pellets inside them and there is currently no standard to which bags must be maintained. Unstable cargo, shifting weight and collapsing packages present challenges at all stages of the supply chain.
Weight distribution: When weight is unevenly distributed, there are increased risks of vehicle overturns. However, such dangers also extend to the warehouse operations through which the cargo passes, as bags may shift during packing or unpacking, endangering workers. Where cargo has shifted, simply opening the doors of a container, with weight pressed against them, may be highly dangerous.
Environmental risk: At whatever point of transit, including handling and transport over land, the occurrence of a spill necessitates adequate containment and clean-up. By some estimates, as many as one in ten containerised consignments experiences a spill. Additionally, packing of bulk road and rail tank containers, often undertaken outside, often incurs incidental spillages.
Load Restraint recommendations
Due to the way that the transport of microplastic pellets can lead to a shift inside the packaging, safely restraining cargoes of nurdles can prove challenging. However, there are solutions that provide an adequate measure of restraint and prevent collapses.
– Large sacks should be banded to the pallets on which they sit. Where such pallets are double stacked, the weight should be spread by using a plywood board between the stacked pallets.
– The use of an adaptive lashing solution, capable of re-tensioning itself, is recommended to prevent loads collapsing due to shifting. Any transversal gap should be closed with dunnage.
– Where pallets are secured to the bed of a curtain-sided vehicle using over-pallet strapping, prevent the strap from damaging the bag by using a pallet protection solution that sits between the strap and the bags. Even a wide strip of cardboard can be adapted for this purpose, though commercial products also exist, including wide strap solutions.
– Where 25 kg bags are palletised, ensure that bags are stacked in staggered layers to create a stable pallet load. Consider using corner protection to increase the stability of the pallet and to provide protection from damage to the bags.