ExxonMobil has agreed to start reporting plastic pellet spills from its polymer production plants under shareholder pressure to prevent ocean pollution, the shareholder group As You Sow said Wednesday.
Exxon’s petrochemical division has several plants that produce plastic pellets, called nurdles, which are used to produce thousands of everyday plastic products. These tiny plastic pellets, which can be spilled during handling and transportation and swept into waterways, are estimated to be the second largest direct source of microplastic pollution to the ocean by weight.
The shareholder group As You Sow filed a proposed shareholder resolution in January with several major petrochemical producers, including Exxon, Dow Chemical, Phillips 66 and Chevron, asking for annual reporting on spills and measures taken to prevent and clean up spills.
Exxon appears to be the first one that caved to the pressure. Under a deal struck with As You Sow, Exxon will begin providing details about whether any spills occurred, specifics about how it is monitoring for spills and how it is managing pellets. It will also describe how the company assesses the effectiveness of pellet loss prevention measures. The company apparently did not have any spills though in 2018, according to As You Sow.
“We are pleased that ExxonMobil has agreed to do public reporting on plastic pellet spills and management,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow in a statement. “It is important for all industry players to establish similar transparency so stakeholders can get a realistic view of the size and scope of this problem. We hope the other companies we are engaged with will follow its lead.”
After the agreement was reached, As You Sow withdrew its shareholder proposal March 22 after the Irving oil major agreed to start reporting its plastic pellet management, according to SEC documents. An Exxon spokesman declined to comment beyond what was said in the SEC documents acknowledging the withdrawal of the shareholder proposal.
Many petrochemical companies are involved in a program called Operation Clean Sweep that aims to promote best practices for pellet management and containment to prevent pellet spills. But As You Sow has criticized the group because it doesn’t require companies to publicly report spills or plastic management methods.
The tiny pellets, the size of fish eggs, make their way onto shorelines, beaches and break up into smaller pieces that animals can mistake as food. Plastic pollution impacts 260 species, causing fatalities from ingestion, entanglement, suffocation and drowning, according to As You Sow.
The other shareholder proposals filed with Chevron, Phillips 66 and Dow Chemical will likely be voted on during shareholder meetings this spring.
As You Sow last year was involved in successful efforts to push Starbucks to ditch plastic straws and pressure KraftHeinz, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and others to commit to increase the use of recycled packaging in their products.
This article first appeared on the Houston Chronicle – an Energy Voice content partner. For more from the Houston Chronicle click here.