Nurdle hunting

What is a nurdle? Well, pick up a plastic item in your home and there is a good chance that it will have been made from lots of nurdles. They are tiny pellets that are the building blocks of the plastic products that we use in our homes. They are also found on a lot of beaches. And they really should not be.

Nurdles and other microplastics found at Wittering

After nurdles are produced they are transported across the world in their billions. During each stage of the industrial process, from pellet to product, nurdles are spilt and, if not cleaned up, enter our rivers and waterways, eventually reaching our oceans. Across the UK it is estimated that as many as 53 billion pellets could enter our oceans every year. That’s 35 tankers’ full being dumped in the seas.

Once at sea, nurdles and other plastics are known to attract and concentrate chemical contaminants in the sea to their surface. Due to their size, and often clear colour, nurdles can look like fish eggs or other small animals which makes them particularly attractive to seabirds, fish and other marine wildlife. Plastic can get trapped in an animal’s stomach making them feel full and stopping them eating real food leading to starvation and potentially death. So, they are not good.

Nurdles don’t need to become marine litter at all. In fact, there are simple measures that can prevent them escaping into the environment. Data gathered by The Great Nurdle Hunt which is running from 13 to 22 March, shows industry and decision makers that there is a problem and that people care about it. The Great Nurdle Hunt was launched in 2014. Since then the data collected has helped build up a growing picture of nurdle pollution and evidence of the problem. Last year “As You Sow” lobbied oil and gas shareholders to support the publication of data on nurdle spills. Exxon was the first to agree to this.

In the UK, over 6,000 companies are part of the plastics industry; producing, importing and converting nurdles into plastic products. You may remember on the BBC’s War on Plastic programme when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visited the INEOS petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth. INEOS has specially made boats which are bringing a constant supply of US Shale Gas to feed its ever growing oil refinery to produce – yes you have guessed it – plastics. The INEOS plant on the north east coast of Britain produces a mind boggling 65 million plastic pellets or nurdles every day.

In 2018 about 450,000 nurdles were found on a beach in North Queensferry as part of the Great Nurdle Hunt. This beach is about 12 miles from the Ineos Polymers plant where nurdles are produced. The nurdles collected weighed a total of 9.35kg.

When you find and report nurdles on our beaches you are helping to draw attention to nurdles that end up in the ocean because of poor plant management practices. You can do this by taking part in your own Great Nurdle Hunt  or by joining Planet Aware for a group nurdle hunt on 22 March.

Information from FIDRA – the environmental charity working on plastic waste.