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Nurdles: The Plastic Pollutant That Can Fit on The Tip of Your Finger


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If inside, take a second to look around at your surroundings. How many pieces of technology do you see? If any of these objects include plastic material, then they are inevitably part “nurdle.” Yes, nurdle is the word you are reading. Have you never heard of this term? Neither had I, until about two weeks ago. Yet, nurdles are the building blocks for millions of plastic products, and the pollution of these spherical plastic pellets, that can fit on the tip of a finger, are quietly wreaking havoc on our marine environments.


The key word in the previous sentence is “quietly.” According to Vox’s Neel Dhanesha, “Nurdles are not classified as pollutants or hazardous materials,” so these pellets are not being cleaned up by the Coast Guard and can be found along most of America’s coastlines. Around 200 metric tons of nurdles enter the ocean each year, which means there are just about 10 trillion of these pellets either slowly degrading or entering seabird’s stomachs in our aquatic environments. Since these pellets are microplastics which slowly degrade into smaller fragments, there is no easy way to recover them at the moment. Once in the water, nurdles begin to emit various environmentally concerning additives like flame retardants, organotins, phthalates, Bisphenol A, and sometimes even PFA'S. Not only do they contain dangerous ingredients, but nurdles attract persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which are some of the most toxic chemicals in use today. Thirdly, these plastic pellets have a hard surface which creates biofilms. These biofilms can harbor pathogenic microorganisms like E.coli and Vibrio SPP. Also, nurdles are ingested by around 80 species of seabirds due to the emission of dimethyl sulfide from the zooplankton living on the plastic bits. Subsequently, these seabirds believe they are full and die of starvation. There is an ongoing list of negative environmental consequences associated with nurdles floating around our bodies of water. Needless to say, Nurdles need to stay on their transport trucks and boats.


Luckily, organizations like the UK’s The Great Nurdle Hunt and Nurdle Patrol out of Texas are currently tracking and cleaning nurdle spills across American, English, and global coastlines. Their websites have interactive maps that show where people have found varying quantities of nurdles in their natural spaces. Trying to get involved? Walk your local lakefront, riverbank, or ocean coastline and look out for these nurdles that easily camouflage as shell pieces or rocks. If you find one, go to either of the sites mentioned above and submit a picture, the time and place that you found them, the longitude and latitude, how many volunteers you have etc. The data submission process is easy, and if we all start collecting nurdles, the impact will be global.


 

References


Dhanesha, Neel. “The Massive, Unregulated Source of Plastic Pollution You've Probably Never Heard Of.” Vox, Vox, 6 May 2022, https://www.vox.com/recode/23056251/nurdles-plastic-pollution-ocean-microplastics.


“The Problem.” Nurdles, Scottish and Christianity in Oxford, 8 Feb. 2019, https://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/the-problem.html.

Nurdle Patrol, Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science, Nov. 2018, https://nurdlepatrol.org/.



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