Nurdles are Nonsense!

Nurdles are nonsense according to our Earth Kids. Nurdles do not make sense. Think about all the plastic items you have in your home. These could include plastic bags, food packaging, tupperware, cups, the toaster and even your cell phone. Now think about the millions of tiny plastic balls that were melted down to make these things! Earth Kids participated in yet another nurdle spill clean-up and found out a lot about these little environmental pests.

How it all Began

Sophia was at Fish Hoek Beach last month collecting nurdles. She told us about the process involved to collect these tiny plastic buttons off the sand:

“We met up with Terry Corr who told us about nurdles and how to collect them off the beach. We needed a sieve, a big bowl, bucket and dustpan. You take the bucket and fill it with sea water. Then you take the dustpan and find the nurdles. Then you brush the nurdles into the dustpan. Try not to get sand in the dustpan! Then go to your bucket and put your nurdles inside it. Now put the sieve on the big bowl and pour the water with the nurdles into the bowl. Finally, pour the water out of the bowl.”

Finding Out About ‘Mermaids’ Tears’

When she got back to school and started to research nurdles, Sophia found out that:

  • plastic pellets are estimated to be the second largest direct source of microplastic pollution in the ocean by weight
  • the first documentation of plastic pellet pollution was in 1972
  • Michael Bentine invented nurdles
  • the first scientific reports of nurdles washing up on beaches were published in the 1970s
  • they have likely been entering our waterways since the 1940s when plastic started being mass produced.

Wow isn’t that crazy!  “For some reason, there is another name for nurdles and that is mermaids’ tears. I wonder why?” thought Sophia. What do you think?

Did you hear the call to all citizens on 21 October 2020 to please help with the nurdle spill on Cape Town’s beaches? This followed a huge spill in 2017 when a Mediterranean Shipping Company container ship lost 49 tons of nurdles into the oceans around Durban. What a crisis!

What About the Poor Fish?

Leeya agrees. She is Sophia’s friend and Earth Kid peer. She is worried about the fish. She described her recent nurdle hunt:

“On about the 20 October 2020, we went to Fish Hoek Beach to look for nurdles. Straight away I saw nurdles. I just realized I had seen nurdles before, but I couldn’t recap when. I ran and picked them up with my hands.”

She put them in a bowl and walked on. Terry Corr told her that it is very likely that she and her family too are ingesting nurdles. “Our fish and ocean animals that we eat think that nurdles are food. They eat them but now we eat fish and the other ocean animals. Fishermen catch the fish and they sell them to us!!! Sometimes I don’t understand. I always worry when I’m eating any sea animals.”

Her sister, Earth Kid Kaely, noted, “The lentil-sized ball of plastic doesn’t look harmful, but when there are trillions of them, you start to notice the damage it does.”

Plastic Pollutes!

And as if that is not the worst, she added, about 53 billion of them are spilled and end up in the oceans in the United Kingdom alone. “These nurdles are manufactured by people we know well. The same people who drill oil out the ground, and the same people who are gazillionaires but still want to make money, AND the same people who you pay to put petrol in your car.”

Kaely knows that we ALL use a lot of plastic every day. Imagine how many nurdles that is?! That is why we need to try and limit our plastic usage, our reliance on this material. Yes, nurdles are tiny plastic pellets, the building blocks for nearly every product made of plastic. Nurdles are about the size of a lentil and produced by petrochemical chemical companies. They are then transported to plastic manufacturing facilities where they are melted down and shaped into a final product.

It is estimated that 270 million metric tons of plastic is produced around the globe every year, much of which begins its life as a plastic pellet. Kaely is right when she says that these nurdles never EVER go away.

Nurdles Cannot Ever Go Away

“They stay in our world from the day they are created to, well, forever. These nurdles float in the oceans for a long time. Then the fish and turtles and other sea life all think these nurdles are food. This is obviously a problem. Think of the food chain: this one fish, that has eaten a couple of nurdles, ends up infecting a whole lot of other animals who have eaten that fish.”

In the early 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency identified nurdles as a threat to fish and wildlife. These plastic pellets act like sponges and can absorb toxins like DDT and PCBs. There is growing concern that nurdles may transfer these toxins to marine organisms. This transfer of toxins has been hard to tease out and what little microplastics research that has been conducted to date provides conflicting evidence on toxin impacts. The direct negative impacts of nurdles on marine life need additional research, but there is substantial evidence of the amount of nurdle pollution and the ingestion of microplastics by marine life.

In South Africa, Plastics SA initiated Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) after the 2017 nurdle spill. They called this “an international stewardship programme designed to prevent resin pellet, flake, and powder loss and help keep this material out of the marine environment”.

Amber is an Earth Kid who hopes that this is true. She knows that nurdles are moulded into containers, chairs and even parts of your phone. We all use, and rely on, plastic daily. That means that we are all part of the nurdle problem.

Amber discovered that plastic pellets escape into the environment during every stage of their lifecycle: from production, to transportation, and during final product manufacturing.

Billions of plastic pellets are swept into waterways annually, adding to harmful levels of plastic pollution in the environment. “Eight million tons of plastic leaks into oceans annually, impacting 260 species, causing fatalities from ingestion, entanglement, suffocation, and drowning. Plastic does an estimated $13 billion in damage to marine ecosystems annually. If no action is taken, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish by 2050.”

There is Light at the End of the Tunnel

Dare we nurture some hope? According to Jace Tunnell of Parley Mexico the nurdles are a world problem that can be solved. He shared his findings for North and South America and said:

“The loss of plastic pellets to the environment is 100% preventable. I am hopeful that the data collected through Nurdle Patrol will be used by regulatory agencies to make tighter regulations on the handling of pellets and stricter stormwater permits for manufacturing facilities. On a broader plastic scale, I think the awareness of single use plastic has increased to a level that cannot be denied as a problem, and that the first step is reducing the use of single use plastics. I do believe this is achievable through public demanding changes and strong regulations allowing cities, states, and countries to ban the use of single use plastics.”

In a nutshell we should all be worried about nurdles. We can all say NO to plastic!

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