Chances are you’ve probably seen nurdles at a beach, along a riverbank, or even just about anywhere. Nurdles are small, round, off-white, and about the size of a lentil.

Source: TED-Ed/Youtube

A nurdle is a small, lightweight, plastic pellet that is the basic building block of nearly all plastic products. Nurdles are produced from natural gas or oil and shipped to plastic factories around the world. They are melted and poured into molds for things like water bottles, food packaging, auto parts, medical devices, and countless other products.

We use countless billions of nurdles every year, but many end up washing up on our shores. According to a comprehensive report about stopping ocean plastic pollution, researchers found that an estimated 200,000 metric tons of nurdles end up in oceans every year. The beads are so light, only about 20 milligrams each, that they easily can be carried with the wind. According to the Nurdle Hunt, nearly 230,000 tonnes of nurdles pollute our oceans every year, which is billions and billions of nurdles.

Nurdles are greatly affecting marine life as many animals can mistake them for food like seabirds, fish, and crustaceans. Because of their small size and color, they can often look like fish eggs which attract marine life. When animals eat these nurdles, they can get trapped in their stomachs and cause ulcers or inhibit them from eating food. The toxic chemicals that they contain are extremely harmful to animals and the chemicals can enter their bodies and become fatal.

Nurdles are not biodegradable but over time they do deteriorate. According to the Breaking The Plastic Wave report, nurdles are now the second-biggest source of ocean microplastics after tire dust. These pellets can even change the temperature or permeability of sand, which affects many animals that incubate their eggs on beaches, like sea turtles.

Source: The Hindu/Youtube

So why are government agencies not doing anything to stop the problem of nurdle spills? Nurdles are not officially classified as pollutants or hazardous materials so many organizations have no responsibility to clean them up. It’s a huge grey area. To make matters even worse, spills are often extremely hard to track where they came from.

Nurdles are so small and light, that they often get lost in transport or even just spill into drains in factories during production. A major problem is the large spills that often happen during transport when these billions of beads are shipped around the world.

In May 2021, the MV X-Press Pearl, a container ship near Sri Lanka caught on fire and sank. The ship has nurdles on it and an estimated 1,680 metric tons of nurdles spilled into the sea. The UN called it the single largest plastic spill on record. However, nurdle spills were nothing new. In the United States in 2020, a ship docked at the port of New Orleans was rocked during a storm and a container of hundreds of millions of nurdles fell into the Mississippi River. The shores were coated in the white beads and even floated down toward the Gulf of Mexico. These beads can eventually blend in with sand, rocks, and other debris and they are nearly impossible to clean up once they’ve spread into the environment.

Source: BBC News/Youtube

These mass spills have led organizations and governments to fight for the International Maritime Organization to finally set obligations for industries to take responsibility and work to prevent these mass pollution events. Companies need to put preventative measures in place to catch nurdles and in general, we need to move away from plastic!

More than 220 marine species have been found to ingest plastic debris according to Nurdle Hunt. Over 260 million tonnes of plastic were produced in 2021, which weighs more than the total weight of the human population. Nurdles are characterized as microplastics from the very beginning of production because of their size. Recently, study after study has come out about microplastics being found just about everywhere.

Thankfully, it seems like many people are finally seeing the horrible impact plastic has on the environment and public health. California recently became the first state to make a plan to combat microplastics while researchers at Michigan Tech found a way to turn plastic waste into protein powderStarbucks is even moving away from single-use plastic!

Microplastics have been found everywhere, from Mount Everest to the depths of the oceans, and it’s even been found in the placentas of pregnant women. It’s more important now than ever to move away from single-use plastic. Not only is it horrible for the environment, but now studies like this are revealing how devastating they can be for human cells. Through food, the air, and other ways, we are constantly consuming tiny plastic particles.

There are products you may be using or habits you may have that contribute to plastic pollution. Learn more about how the use of Teabags, Cotton Swabs, Laundry, Contact Lenses, Glitter, and Sheet Masks pollute our oceans so you can make more informed decisions going forward. Some numerous simple actions and switches can help cut plastic out of our lives including making your cosmeticsshampootoothpastesoaphousehold cleaners, using mason jarsreusable bags/bottles/straws, and avoiding microbeads! Please also sign this petition to join the fight against plastic pollution!

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