Plastic nurdle pollution & how you can help

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You’ve seen the reports about more plastic in the ocean than fish, but have you heard of plastic nurdle pollution?

Wait, what’s a nurdle? 

Take a moment to look around. Focus on noticing all of the various shapes, colors, and sizes of plastic. Would you believe me if I told you that all of these products were constructed from the same raw material? 

Well, it’s true! All plastic items begin their existence as small pellets, called nurdles, which plastic factories make and distribute to various companies. These nurdles are then constructed into actual, shapely items like those pesky utensil sets. You know the ones that come with every takeout meal, despite turning off the setting that reads “include utensils?”. However, it is the loss of nurdles during transportation between manufacturing facilities that makes these plastic pellets a problem in themselves.

plastic nurdle

Many forms of plastic 

Despite all plastic being constructed from the same raw material, nurdles have variations within their own production. According to the Ocean Blue Project, they can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, or any other type of plastic. In fact, certain chemicals can be added to the pellets’ creation which allows them to generate different densities. 

These plastics are differentiated by those little numbered recycling logos that can be found on your plastic items. The official name for these symbols is called RICs (Resin Identification Codes). This is where plastic can get a bit confusing. 

resin identification codes

68% of the population believes that any plastic item labeled with a RIC is recyclable but it’s just not true. In fact, only 9% of all plastic ever created was recycled. Consequently, all of the other plastics, if properly disposed of, would be banished to the landfill.

To obtain all of the diverse shapes, colors, and sizes wanted by companies for various products, there have to be several different kinds of plastics to fit these molds.

In regards to nurdles, it can be tricky to establish them as a form of plastic pollution. Why? They are not easily noticeable (especially in sand) and appear in many different colors, shapes, and sizes. However, plastic nurdle pollution is just as dangerous for the marine community as large plastic debris.

Plastic nurdle pollution

Be it as it may, these tiny pellets are causing massive problems for our marine ecosystem. They only weigh around 20 mg, average about 3-5 mm in diameter, and easily float in water. Therefore, the wind effortlessly sweeps up nurdles, littering the street with mass amounts of pellets during transportation. These nurdles will eventually end up in the storm drains, floating, on their way to the ocean.

As a result of their small size, nurdles are considered to form a primary microplastic. Unlike large pieces of plastic that drift in the ocean, microplastics are nearly impossible to remove in large quantities.

plastic nurdle pollution

Consequently, marine animals mistake these plastic pellets for prey, thus granting them a place in the food chain. And if you eat fish, a place at our dinner table too. That’s right, at our dinner tables! Animals such as turtles, birds, and fish die by absorbing harmful chemicals from stomachs full of nurdles. However, sometimes in terms of fish, these poisoned creatures could be consumed by us first!

How YOU Can Help

By now you may be asking, “What can I do to help prevent this?” You can take action by helping clean up your local beaches and waterways. We host monthly cleanups in the Burlington, VT area – join us!

When it comes to nurdles, you initially have to know what you are looking for. These tiny, little pellets can be hard to find. 

Luckily for you, an organization called Nurdle Patrol has a training video for your viewing. The Nurdle Patrol is so much more than just an informational resource.  This organization’s mission is to community map nurdle collections in order to figure out where the majority of pollution settles. This data can be used as a “call to action” for local, state, and national representatives to pass stricter laws and regulations.   Therefore, make sure you count and record your pellet collections.

beach cleanup plastic pollution

In addition to the Nurdle Patrol, other organizations that are trying to fight this issue includes:

  • The Great Nurdle Hunt: UK based organization providing individuals with the resources and information collected through their community mapping system and research. 
  • Ocean Blue Project: Non-profit founded in Newport, Oregon by a father and son duo in 2012. Their goal is to clean up the ocean by removing microplastics from the ecosystem.  
  • The Ocean Clean Up: Foundation focusing on creating advanced technology to remove plastic from the ocean.
  • The Plastic Ocean Project: Co-founded by Bonnie Monteleone and Paul Lorenzo in 2012, this organization has a mission to remove plastic through education, action, and collaboration.

Clean up the nurdles to save the turtles. 

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