Plastic pellets, or nurdles, are tiny (3-5mm) pieces of plastic used to make drink bottles, food containers, toothbrushes … you name it, if it’s plastic, it’s likely been made with nurdles.
These seemingly innocent mini balls of plastic usually end up in the sea. They are spilt and leaked in all stages of their life cycle: during production, transportation, moulding into larger plastic items, and recycling. This not only means they end up on the ground, in the soil, but also down drains and into rivers.
How do they affect wildlife?
An estimated 53 billion nurdles are leaked in the UK alone every year. Once there, they attract and bind harmful chemicals to their surface, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces. Nurdles are often colourless and look very like fish eggs, deceiving animals into thinking they are food, just like how plastic bags can look like jellyfish to unsuspecting turtles. Nurdles release the toxins they’ve absorbed into the animal that eats them, which not only affects the animal’s health but can also end up on our dinner plate.
What is being done?
A Trommel is a specially designed ‘nurdle sieve’ that separates the tiny pieces of plastic from the sand on a beach, although these are not yet widespread. These are designed to remove as much plastic as possible, while leaving as much sand and organic matter on the beach as they can. If your beach has a nurdle problem, you can request a Trommel to clean it up.
In February ever year, the Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place. Volunteers around the world go on a hunt for nurdles on their beaches. This not only cleans up the beaches, but also provides data to scientists on where nurdles are most common, where they’re washing up, and perhaps where they are coming from. You can also photograph and log any nurdles you find in the Plastic Patrol app, adding to our global database analysed by scientists to develop solutions to the problem of plastic pollution.
What really needs to be done is to stop the problem at the source. We need to provide robust evidence and put pressure on plastic-manufacturing companies and the government to ensure better practices are in place along the supply chain, and to make plastic facilities ‘nurdle-tight’ so no beads are lost.
What you can do
One of the most efficient way to stop nurdle pollution is to stop buying plastic. However, there are billions of nurdles out in the environment right now, and they won’t go away without action. Get involved with the Great Global Nurdle Hunt and log your findings in the Plastic Patrol app.
And forget about a needle in a haystack – think about a nurdle on a beach.