What is a nurdle?

Also known as "mermaid tears"

Nurdles are the pre-production pellet form of plastics. They are generally 1 millimeter (mm) to 5 mm in size and are made in a variety of colors and types of plastic. They are typically manufactured by large chemical companies from petroleum-based non-renewable resources.

Nurdles are the raw materials melted down to produce plastics. Each kind of plastic is composed of nurdles of different compositions and colors. When plastics are recycled, they can be turned back into nurdles and the cycle is repeated. Nurdles are often shipped all over the world in large sacks to factories, where they are turned into various plastic products.

How do they impact the environment?

Nurdles are the backbone of so much packaging we use - and of some serious health and environmental challenges.

Due to improper storage or transfer, nurdles frequently leach into bodies of water, where fish and other marine animals can mistake the pellets for food. Ingesting the nurdles, which can also absorb other chemicals, could be deadly for animals and pose a serious danger for the wider ecosystem if they become caught in food chains.

Nurdles are typically shipped to plastic product manufacturers in rail cars or by truck. Some nurdles may be lost during transfer or spilled accidentally from damaged containers. Unless spilled nurdles are cleaned up they will be swept through the watershed by rain or dry-weather runoff to the nearest lake, bay or ocean and also deposited on the adjacent beaches.

How We Can Fix a World of Nurdles?

The presence of nurdles on beaches is quite common, although they are not always obvious. Nurdles often closely resemble grains of sand, but are typically slightly larger, with a uniform, spherical shape. In February 2017, the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt survey was carried out by 600 volunteers over a weekend. The search of 279 beaches around the UK found that almost three-quarters of them were littered with nurdles. The largest number recorded were found at Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, where 33 volunteers collected some 127,500 pellets found on a 100-metre stretch of beach.

The main issue with nurdles is that they can be mistaken for food by animals (fish, birds, marine mammals, sea turtles) and consumed. Nurdles have a striking resemblance to fish eggs. Another concern with release of nurdles (and other plastic materials) into the marine environment is that plastic particles may highly concentrate and transport synthetic organic compounds (e.g. persistent organic pollutants, POPs) commonly present in the environment and ambient sea water on their surface through adsorption. These pollutants can then potentially bioaccumulate up the food chain.

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