Eastman Chemical Co. will begin public reporting on spills of resin pellets, becoming the sixth plastics manufacturer to do so after reaching an agreement with shareholder activist group As You Sow.
AYS announced Dec. 15 that it is withdrawing a proposal seeking a shareholder vote on the measure at the company's annual meeting after Eastman said it would start public reporting on spills in its 2021 Sustainability Report. That report is due to be released in late 2021.
Eastman joins ExxonMobil Chemical Co., Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Dow Inc., Westlake Chemical Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. in agreeing to public reporting, according to the Berkeley, Calif.-based environmental shareholder advocacy organization.
The industry's Operation Clean Sweep program to combat pellet spills and leakage at factories does not require individual company disclosure. The trade associations running OCS announced last year they would begin collecting and reporting spill data, but it would be aggregated across the industry.
"The industry does not yet require public reporting of pellet spills," said Conrad MacKerron, AYS senior vice president. "We are proud that all public spill reporting commitments to date are the result of As You Sow's engagement leadership. Baseline data from such reporting helps policymakers and other stakeholders assess the scope of this growing problem."
AYS said pellet spills are estimated to be the second-largest direct source of microplastics in the oceans.
It points to incidents like a large shipping accident on the Mississippi River in August that sent pellets into the waterway, and where it said no formal cleanup started for three weeks.
The group also noted the $50 million settlement that Formosa Plastics Corp. USA agreed to in 2019 to end a pellet pollution lawsuit brought by conservation groups in Texas.
AYS said it's filed a similar resolution with DuPont Co. seeking a shareholder vote and wants to broaden the work with the seven resin makers to include reporting of spills in transit and along the pellet supply chain.
The group believes that most pellet releases happen in transit, like in the recent the Mississippi River spill, and wants the industry and its transportation partners to agree to third-party audits, said Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator.
As well, McBee pointed to a pellet supply chain certification program being developed by the British Standards Institute and wants that adopted in the United States.
"While we have made significant progress on reporting, transparency is just the first step to stymie the estimated 10 trillion pellets that are lost annually around the globe," she said. "Without third-party audits we cannot be certain that these new reports are being conducted accurately."
AYS said that three of the firms had reported information on spills.
CP Chemical reported in mid-2019 that it lost 4 pounds of pellets at production facilities in 2018, and 0.02 pounds in 2019, while ExxonMobil reported zero spills in both years and Dow said in July it had zero spills since it implemented new reporting standards in January 2020.
While AYS is working with individual companies, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has launched a rule-making process that could see the agency get tougher on the entire industry to control pellet leaks from factories. TCEQ has said it could make a final decision by September.