Massive, unregulated source of plastic pollution you never heard of…


Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP

A nurdle is a bead of pure plastic. It is the basic building block of almost all plastic products, like some sort of synthetic ore; their creators call them “pre-production plastic pellets” or “resins.” Every year, trillions of nurdles are produced from natural gas or oil, shipped to factories around the world, and then melted and poured into molds that churn out water bottles and sewage pipes and steering wheels and the millions of other plastic products we use every day. You are almost certainly reading this story on a device that is part nurdle….

An estimated 200,000 metric tons of nurdles make their way into oceans annually. The beads are extremely light, around 20 milligrams each. That means, under current conditions, approximately 10 trillion nurdles are projected to infiltrate marine ecosystems around the world each year.

Hundreds of fish species — including some eaten by humans — and at least 80 kinds of seabirds eat plastics. Researchers are concerned that animals that eat nurdles risk blocking their digestive tracts and starving to death. Just as concerning is what happens to the beads in the long term: Like most plastics, they do not biodegrade, but they do deteriorate over time, forming the second-largest source of ocean microplastics after tire dust. (A nurdle, being less than 5 millimeters around, is a microplastic from the moment of its creation, something also known as a primary microplastic.)

There’s much we still don’t know about how plastics can harm the bodies of humans and animals alike, but recent research has shown that microplastics can be found in the blood of as much as 80 percent of all adult humans, where they can potentially harm our cells. We may not eat the plastic beads ourselves, but nurdles seem to have a way of finding their way back to us.

You could always write to your Congress-critter and complain. If they fit the average profile, they might ask you to explain what a nurdle is. The only reason I know is because I spent a few strange years – long ago and far away – running a production quality lab for a plastics manufacturer. :-]

No doubt, your elected buddy is on the donations payroll from plastic manufacturers who offer a helluva lot more to their re-election than you or I do.

2 thoughts on “Massive, unregulated source of plastic pollution you never heard of…

  1. jimjouppi says:

    I once worked at an injection molding plant making plastic garbage cans out of nurdles. Maybe they could make nurdles out of something else. I noticed the boxed water they now sell says on the carton that even the cap, which appears to be plastic, is biodegradable.

  2. fgsjr2015 says:

    Too many of us still recklessly behave as though we’re inconsequentially dispensing our non-biodegradable waste into a black-hole singularity, in which it’s compressed into nothing. Indeed, I, myself, notice every time I discard of trash, I receive a reactive Spring-cleaning-like sense of disposal satisfaction. [I even receive that sense, albeit far more innocently, when deleting and especially double-deleting email.]

    It’s like it can always somehow be safely absorbed into the air, water, and land — out of sight, out of mind!

    I’ll never forget the astonishingly short-sighted, entitled selfishness I observed about five years ago, when a TV news reporter randomly asked a young urbanite wearing sunglasses what he thought of government restrictions on disposable plastic straws. “It’s like we’re living in a nanny state,” he retorted with a snort, “always telling me what I can’t do.”

    Astonished by his shortsighted little-boy selfishness, I wondered whether he’d be the same sort of individual who’d likely have a sufficiently grand sense of entitlement — ‘Like, don’t tell me what I can’t waste or do, dude!’ — to permit himself to now, say, deliberately dump a whole box of unused straws into the nearest waterbody, just to stick it to the authorities who’d dare tell him that enough is enough with our gratuitous massive dumps of plastics into our helpless oceans. He thus would give his figurative middle-finger at any new anti-plastic-waste government rule(s) with a closing, ‘There! How d’ya like that, pal!’

    His carelessly entitled mentality revealed why so much gratuitous animal-life-destroying plastic waste eventually finds its way into the natural environment, where there are few, if any, caring souls to immediately see it.

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