Nurdles, also known as “pre-pellets,” are small, lentil-sized plastic resin pellets that are used as raw materials for the production of everyday plastic products. These lightweight granules are also a major source of microplastic contamination. Easily caught by the wind when spilled during transport or handling, they wash or float on waterways, oceans and beaches.
Since plastic waste is ubiquitous across the planet, gusts are the building blocks of our current plastic pollution crisis.
According to The Great Nurdle Hunt, a global breed data collection initiative set up by UK charity Fidra, “There is currently no practical way to remove growth from the sea, but we can stop the problem from getting worse.”
Nurdles life cycle
According to Dr. Abigail Entwistle, “Nurdles start their lives in plastic manufacturing plants, are pressed like a thread and then cut into short pieces, roughly the size and shape of lentils (or into smaller flakes and powders).”
This allows easy transportation and handling between multiple manufacturing centers responsible for creating the final product.
Along the way, the portions are “packed into bags, pumped into containers, loaded onto trucks, transported by forklifts and / or filled into containers.”
If the plastic product is recycled, it is shredded, heated and processed to be converted back into pellets.
How did Nurdles become a problem?
Nerdles are spilled at all stages of plastic production, manufacturing and recycling, often due to poor management. “[Nurdles] often claims freedom,” explains Dr. Entwistle. “If you’ve ever poured lentils from a bag into a jar, you know how easy it is to [send] them to the kitchen floor.”
While the plastics industry’s voluntary Clean Clean-up operation encourages best practices for zero spillage, there is no external verification of compliance.
Although the US Clean Water Act was passed to protect our waterways, it allows manufacturers to dump a certain amount of pollutants. Because it is so difficult to trace fetuses to their origins, rule-breakers rarely get charged. In 2019, a Texas judge approved a pathetic but historic $ 50 million settlement for the well-known polluter Formosa (out of a $ 184 million maximum fine).
After a spill, wind and rain quickly carry tiny blisters into the ocean through storm drains. They make up about 250,000 tons of the 8 million tons of plastic that enters our oceans every year.
When they decompose into smaller particles under the influence of weather and water, they absorb chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and mercury on their surfaces and harm birds and marine animals, which often mistake them for food.
How can we fix the nanny world?
“Thrushes are not currently viewed by the federal government as ‘dangerous stuff.’ This needs to change, ”says Jace Tunnell, director of the Mission-Aransas Estuary National Research Reserve in Port Aransas, Texas. Tunnell discovered millions of shells off the coast of Texas.
“The key to providing long-term protection is to classify plastic pellets as hazardous and to define the role of state and federal agencies in the event of the next spill, which is likely to occur more frequently with increased production of plastic pellets.” (California is the only state with a “baby law” that provides for both.)
However, there are also promising developments. “The Texas Surfrider Foundation has developed a Texas Nurdle Bill that mandates changes in discharge permits to“ zero waste of plastic pellets in the environment, ”says Tunnell. He hopes this can serve as a template for other states. State Representative Todd Hunter (right) has agreed to sponsor the bill.
To collect data on infant concentration and push forward legislative action, Tunnell launched the Nurdle Patrol citizen scientists project in 2018.
It’s very simple and anyone can participate. “People who go to the beach, riverbank or lakeside do a 10-minute survey to see if their community has a baby problem,” says Tunnell. “After adding the data to the reporting form, they can immediately print the map to send to their government agency or elected official.”
Since 2018, there have been three major oil spills – in Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana – to which “there has been virtually no response from federal or state agencies in terms of clean-up or investigation.”
But Tunnell has a lot of trust in civilian scientists. “The more data people collect, the more likely they are to justify the need for change.”
What can you do
The most important thing you can do is reduce your plastic consumption.
Learn more about minimalism or zero waste of life.
Use plastic parts to the fullest before replacing or recycling. Globally, only 9% of plastic is recycled, and most of it can only be recycled into textiles, after which it takes hundreds of years to break down.
Don’t buy personal care products that contain microbeads. Having gone down into the sewers, they often end up in water bodies, where animals eat them and become sick.
Join Nurdle Patrol to collect data, educate your community, and help transfer government initiatives for polluters. Get started with a tutorial video on the Nurdle Patrol home page.