UK and Ireland Spill Association Plastic Pollution Working Group

In 2020 we formed a Plastic Pollution Working Group (PPWG) as a number of our members (marine and UK-based responders including Ambipar and Oil Spill Response Ltd (OSRL)) were being called out by local authorities to relatively small (less than 1000kg) spills of plastic nurdles that had washed up on their beaches and they were not certain of the best way of dealing with these.

They contacted the Environment Agency (EA) and the local officers were uncertain. Working in conjunction with the EA we evolved a response plan that involved incident triage, safe systems of work and trialled various pieces of recovery equipment such that a response to these relatively small spills could be safely and quickly executed. This is working well now.

When MV X-Press Pearl incident occurred in May 2021 with the involvement of several UK based companies and organisations we invited them (ITOPF and CEFAS) to join PPWG to gather and document wider knowledge and experience of a major incident where there was a significant loss of plastic nurdles.


In April 2022 the group committed to delivering the following goals over the subsequent 12 month period:

(Click on each goal to find out more)

  • Understand the problem – Understand the sources, pathways and impacts of plastic pollution from rivers to the oceans. (Oracle to lead)
  • Identification of the most effective equipment for the recovery of macro and micro-plastics from shorelines and nearshore environments (Oracle and OSRL to lead)
  • Establish agreed methods for the assessment of ecological impact of plastics recovery operations (RSK Raw and UK&Eire Spill to lead)
  • Establish agreed methods for qualitative (e.g. SCAT) and quantitative (e.g. laboratory analysis) assessment of macro and microplastics in sediments and waters and effective sampling and monitoring techniques. (OSRL to lead)
  • Assessment of environmental and health risks associated with macro and micro plastics to assist in clean up end point determination (UK&Eire Spill to lead with CEFAS)
  • Develop effective approaches for the surveillance and modelling of macro and microplastics to aid in response efforts, prediction of plastic movement and source identification (OSRL and UK&Eire Spill to lead)
  • Develop approach to sustainability assessment with respect to plastics recovery endpoints and final destination of recovered plastics / debris (RSK Raw to lead)
  • Share information gained through the group through webinars, demonstration days, technical publications and liaison with other appropriate organisations (e.g. EA, IMO, Councils, NGOs) (UK&Eire Spill to lead) process Commenced and 1st webinar held 29 Nov
  • Work with ISAS to ensure the Module for Shoreline Plastic Pollution and Marine Debris Recovery is formally released (Oracle to lead) – in Hand with ISAS
  • Identification of effective tools and equipment for controlling plastics at source (e.g. on site, in drains and in rivers) (Oracle to lead) Completed and webinar in March

8 of these will be delivered through a paper and an accompanying webinar. The first in this monthly series was 29 November. Once each webinar is run we will publish the paper with the accompany webinar on www.ukeirespill.org.

In mid 2022 we were asked if the group would contribute to an IPIECA Good Practice Guide which will come out next year and be a strategy guidance document.

In 2023 we will produce our own a Field Practice Guide aimed directly at responders which is based around the deliverables of each of our goals,. We will also hold a 2 day conference with workshops to explain how the tools in the guide can be delivered.

The Field Practice Guide will be publicly available as a PDF download through our website so that any who plan for or are having to manage a major plastic pollution incident have a source of reliable information and best practice to guide them through the response and mitigation of such an incident.  This will be updated by PPWG as we learn more through practical experience.

Concurrently we have a project on mechanical recovery underway with the University of Southampton which is likely to produce a prototype for field trial. These we plan to do in mid 2023  and may join with Cedre (French equivalent of CEFAS) to do these in Brest. We want to get all recovery equipment in one place, trial its effectiveness and suitability for different beach environments and produce user guides for the equipment. We would like to see Universities work together, share research initiatives and prevent overlap so that scarce funding is wisely spent and outcomes shared.

To date our work has focussed on microplastic recovery but we are hoping to work with the Environment Agency on guides for prevention of loss of larger plastics to avoid them reaching the streams, rivers and estuaries etc so that we reduce what we are seeing on our beaches and in the marine environment.  However we have no knowledge of who is doing this  work in the EA as we have experience of what can and does not work from different member’s effort around the world?

We have consulted on the Marine Litter Scotland strategy which was a good document and have liaised with Northern Ireland Environment Agency  initiatives.

We have yet to focus on nano-plastic recovery but there is a feeling within the group that we have a lot of immediate work to do and this is the next stage of work which will start probably later 2023 and into 2024.

The goal of our group is to collaborate to make the environment better and to share best practice so we are open to collaboration with whomever be they regulator, company, NGO or individual.