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THE NURDLE: BUILDING BLOCKS OF PLASTIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM

November 24, 2022
November 24, 2022
The Great Nurdle Hunt via Twitter

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. Last year, nearly 124 billion pounds of plastic resin were produced by companies in North America, according to the American Chemistry Council. 

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.

Releasing the pellets into waterways is generally illegal under under federal and state water permits and spillage of nurdles is not tracked by federal regulators. Because the are not considered a hazardous material the clean up of nurdles is not a priority so citizens have taken up the cause by educating others in an attempt to raise awareness and clean up the problem. 

“Once you know what they look like, you see them everywhere,” James Cato, a community organizer with Mountain Watershed Association told the WSJ.

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