Last Sunday I joined a handful of friends from uni to help out with a beach clean that had been organised for the small Cornish beach of Poldhu, on the Mullion coastline. Besides bagging as much rubbish as we could whisk off the beach, we were also on the look out for nurdles as part of the national ‘Great Winter Nurdle Hunt‘.
“What on earth is a nurdle??”, you might be thinking – well, I’ll attempt to shed some light on the origins of these diabolical little plastic fragments, and show how you can help rid our coastline of them too!
“What a stunning Cornish beach!” would be a forgivable exclamation upon pulling in to Poldhu’s sandy car park. And it really is a beautiful site with a lovely beach cafe and some stunning coastal scenery. However, take a closer look at the strand line and you’d be appalled at the mark that human consumerism is scarring the sand with…
After our initial thoughts that a beach clean at Poldhu might not take too long, we soon realised that our efforts would make barely a dent in the volume of plastic that littered the shore. And whilst some comprised the usual affair of bottles, bottle caps, bits of shredded polyester or nylon rope, plastic bags and fragments of hard plastic, the majority of the litter took the form of small, pellet-shaped bits of plastic that looked like miniature M&Ms…Nurdles
Plastic nurdles were depressingly numerous amongst the flotsam and jetsam, gathering in their hundreds along the line of the retreating tide. Nurdles are small pellets of microplastic usually less than 5mm in size; they are manufactured in their countless billions every year as an intermediary product prior to being made into final plastic products. These plastic fragments can find their way into the environment at every stage in their production, transport and industrial handling.
The issues: nurdles add another suite of issues to the myriad of problems that plastic pollutes generally pose to the environment. In particular, once in the ocean they can attract and then concentrate harmful pollutants such as PCBs into toxic levels; marine animals can mistake these deadly prey look-alikes for food, ingesting them and suffering various issues as a result; the pellets also follow the same fate as most marine plastics, being broken into ever smaller pieces until they remain in the marine environment as tiny plastic fragments. These microscopic particles cause their own suite of problems on the animals and life-forms in our oceans.
So they’re pretty bad really – and that is why we wanted to record them. We were joining thousands of other people in the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt, which aimed to gather as much data as possible on the prevalence of these pellets on our British shores. All the results collected from last weekend will be used to inform the government that this is a real issue, hopefully providing enough evidence to ensure that we tackle the issue head-on!
What were the results of our own #NurdleHunt? Well, in just 30 minutes sat in a single spot on the strand line, I myself picked up over 800. EIGHT HUNDRED! In an area less than a couple of metre’s squared. Do some math and extrapolation across the beach and you start to comprehend the depth of the issue we’re dealing with! Of course one might say it was particularly bad last weekend, after a series of wild winter storms whipped up the seas and brought a lot of plastic to beaches around Cornwall. Nevertheless, it really was shocking to see their abundance once you took a closer look at the beach
As I mentioned, we were primarily at Poldhu for an organised beach clean to rid the sandy cove of any litter we could find. Whilst nurdles stole the show and effort for some of us, it was great to get members of the public joining in and scavenging around to collect as much as they could. You can even get a bit creative with your litter picks…
Some good news for you! There is plenty you can do to help reduce the amount of the horrid plastic stuff washing up on our beaches.
First and foremost, tell the government exactly what you think about nurdles by responding to their consultation on the issue; and write to your MP to further drive home your stance on these pollutants!
Simple lifestyle choices can have a big impact if we act collectively: reusing plastic bags when you go shopping as opposed to buying them anew; refraining from buying bottled water, refilling an old bottle instead; trying to buy fewer plastic-wrapped products in supermarkets; spreading the word to your friends and family.
Why not organise a beach clean near you? Or if you’re pressed for time, join in the great initiative of the
#2minutebeachclean, where you literally could spend just a couple of minutes picking up some rubbish from a beach near you, and share your results over social media with the hashtag.
The Marine Conservation Society UK are currently encouraging members of the public to send in their reports of plastic bottles on beaches too, sharing this by using the hashtag
For lots more info and some great initiatives by other organisations, check out these websites: