So what is a nurdle, you might ask? The vast majority of plastic originates in the form of pre-production plastic pellets that are the building blocks for the plastic industry. Nurdles are generally 3-5 mm in diameter, around the size of a lentil, and weigh ~20mg each. Pretty much anything you can think of that’s made of plastic started as a nurdle. For example, around 600 nurdles are used to make a small disposable water bottle.
The nurdle is also a major source of plastic pollution we rarely hear about. It’s estimated that up to 53 billion nurdles are released annually in the UK from the plastic industry. That’s the same amount of nurdles that it would take to make 88MM plastic bottles.
The Nurdle Problem:
- The small size of nurdles makes them easy to transport, but mismanagement in transport and processing leads to billions being unintentionally released into rivers and oceans through effluent pipes, blown from land, or because of industrial spillage.
- Their small size, round shape and array of colors make them appear like attractive food and are easily mistaken for fish eggs and small prey to marine life.
- The large surface area to size ratio and polymer composition of the nurdle pellets allow persistent organic pollutants in seawater to build up on their surfaces. These toxins then transfer to the tissue of organisms which eat them.
- Nurdles can also be colonized by microbes that are dangerous to humans.
The Great Nurdle Hunt is one organization trying to bring awareness and clean up the problem.
Read more in The Conversation.
Photo: The Great Nurdle Hunt via Twitter