What are Nurdles – Why You Need to Worry About Them
By: Ana Mexia
Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets, and they are causing devastating damage to our environment and marine life. You can find them on your favorite beach, blending in with sand and shells.
The first reported appearance of nurdles on beaches dates back to 1970. However, plastic production began in 1940, so it’s likely that nurdles have been entering the ocean since then. 1
In this article you’ll learn what they are, how nurdles are damaging our ecosystems, and what you can do to help.
What is a Nurdle?
A nurdle is a small plastic pellet used to create virtually anything plastic. From plastic bottles to automobile parts, they’re widely used in plastic production.
They are the raw material for everything that’s made of plastic. But even if they’re tiny, their damage is giant and immeasurable. Because of their size, it’s hard to keep them contained, and they spill into rivers, waterways, and the ocean.
Nurdles come in all sorts of colors, and their size and shape make it very easy for marine life to mistake them for food. It’s been recorded that more than 220 species of marine animals ingest microplastics and plastic debris.
Nurdles are made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, or other plastic types. Also, in some cases, they contain different additives to create pellets of different densities. 2
How Are Nurdles Damaging Our Ecosystems?
The creation of these pellets requires fossil fuels, which are already posing a risk to our planet. Fossil fuels are accelerating global warming because of their greenhouse emissions. But the damage caused by nurdles goes way beyond fossil fuels.
These nurdles are as small as a lentil, and as they get damaged by the weather and ocean currents, they get smaller and smaller. Because of their size, they are easily confused for food by marine life.
Fish, turtles, seabirds, and all kinds of marine animals are eating these pellets. Their stomachs fill with plastic, which their bodies can’t handle. The plastic debris adds up in their stomach, so they don’t eat, and eventually die of starvation— with a stomach full of plastic.
Nurdles absorb toxins and harmful chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POP). POP’s are toxic chemicals found in the air, water, among others, and they have a profound effect on human health. They come from pesticides, toxins and other harmful chemicals. 3
After nurdles absorb these chemicals, they’re eaten by fish. The toxins in all the microplastics these fish are eating, slowly poisons them. Then either two things happen: 1) The fish dies and it’s eaten by another fish, who then starts to get poisoned too— or 2) You eat the fish for dinner yourself.
We end up eating the fish whose flesh not only has tiny plastic particles, but also harmful chemicals. 4
A recent study by the University of Arizona confirmed that microplastics are now found in human organs for the first time.
Everything we’ve been dumping into the ocean since 1940 has come back to us through food.
How Big is The Microplastics Issue?
Big, but together, we can tackle this and any other issues we’re facing. Every year, there are approximately 250,000 tons of nurdles, also known as mermaid tears, making their way into our oceans and rivers. 5
Their size makes it hard to contain them, and accidental spills during transportation makes the issue worse. But nurdles are not the only microplastic found in our oceans. Larger plastic items get fragmented into smaller bits once they’re at sea.
Even certain clothes we wear release microplastics, in the form of fibers, into the water when we wash them.
Now add onto that the 8 million pieces of plastic entering our oceans every day, and the millions of marine animals dying from plastic pollution. Every single year. 6
As we face the pandemic of COVID-19, the use of single-use plastic, like face masks and gloves, is growing. Many supermarkets closed their bulk sections for health reasons, but are still ignoring the bigger picture: the health of our planet.
Starbucks and other coffee shops have stopped allowing customers to bring their own cups. New health policies are making them serve only in single-use plastic or non-recyclable cardboard cups.
This feels overwhelming, but there is hope to tackle this crisis and save our oceans, rivers, and lakes… And so, our planet.
What Can You Do About Nurdles?
First, shift away from single-use plastic and into a more sustainable lifestyle. Raise awareness about these issues by sharing this article with friends and family and through social media.
If we want nurdles out of our waterways and bodies, we must stop producing and consuming so much plastic.
To put an end to the nurdle problem, it needs to be addressed by governments and large corporations. Individuals alone can’t bring a full solution to the problem. Organizations like The Great Nurdle Hunt and Nurdle Patrol are working on this issue.
How is Ocean Blue Project Helping?
Ocean Blue Project is helping to tackle the plastic pollution issue with regular clean-ups all around the United States. There are 8 to 14 million tons of plastic entering our oceans every year. The ultimate goal of OBP is to remove 1 million pounds of debris from lakes, oceans, and rivers by 2025.
Want to help us reach our goal? Organize your own local clean up in your community and clean up your favorite beach or river. We’ll help you put your event together. With your help, we can create an even bigger impact. Create a clean-up with a group of friends or office employees!
As a non-profit organization, we’re also committed to educating people— especially youth— about the current climate challenges we’re facing.
Learn more about our work and our impact, and what we’re doing to fight the plastic pollution in your community.
Author bio: Ana Mexia is a freelance copywriter for sustainable businesses and an activist for climate change based in Brooklyn.