Record number of plastic nurdles found on beaches as environmental groups call for tougher laws

Record number of plastic nurdles found on beaches as environmental groups call for tougher laws

More nurdles have been found on beaches than ever before as environmental groups push for legislation to classify them as marine pollutants so they are subject to stricter laws when handling and transporting them.

Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets used by industry to produce almost all of our plastic products, but spills from factories and cargoes mean that many escape into the environment and end up in the sea.

They can have devastating consequences for wildlife and can absorb chemical pollutants before releasing toxins into the creatures that eat them.

This year’s Great Global Nurdle Hunt, organized by environmental charity FIDRA, has found a record number of nurdles on beaches around the world.

Hunts took place at 317 sites across 23 countries and were found in 90% of locations. The only country where no nurdles were found was Indonesia.

Limekilns, a village around 27km from Edinburgh, is one of the worst affected areas in the UK – and it doesn’t take long to find nurdles on the beach.

Joanna McFarlane, chair of nature conservation group CLP, told Sky News: “We are dealing with historic nurdle loss and I would say a lot of the nurdles have been here for decades and they are washing up, maybe- be they being dragged from the bottom of the Firth of Forth and being dropped off, or they are just sitting in the bank.

Joanna McFarlane
Joanna McFarlane says many of the nurdles on the shore of Limekilns have probably been there for decades

“Sometimes you can remove the sandbar and the nurdles are only half of the sandbar.

“The question is who is responsible for these nurdles and why has no one been held accountable for these nurdles that are polluting our beaches and our communities right now”

“We want to ask why no one is responsible for this pollution on our beach that we live with every day. Children play among it, wildlife ingests it, is anyone going to take responsibility?”

The impact of nurdles on the environment is devastating and spills can see billions of dollars thrown into the ocean.

Following a fire on a ship off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2021, between 50 and 75 billion nurdles are believed to have ended up in the sea – it would be the worst spill in the world.

Megan Kirton
Megan Kirton says nurdles are nearly impossible to clean, so preventative action is vital

Megan Kirton, project officer at FIDRA, told Sky News: “As well as not looking very good on a beach and smothering beaches in plastic, unfortunately a lot of nurdles are mistaken for food by many marine animals.

“Animals such as seabirds, fish, dolphins and baby turtles have all been found to consume nurds because they are easily mistaken for food.”

She said animals feel full when they have eaten nurdles and therefore do not take in proper food.

Ms Kirton added: “Once the nurdles are in the environment, they’re almost impossible to clean up, so we need to work on preventative actions to stop them getting there in the first place.”

FIDRA is working with Fauna and Flora International to urge the International Maritime Organization to implement legislation to formally classify nurdes as marine pollutants.

It would change the way they are handled and transported.

Tanya Cox, Senior Technical Specialist at Fauna and Flora International
Tanya Cox wants nurdles to be classified as marine pollutants so they are packaged more strictly

Tanya Cox, senior technical specialist at Fauna and Flora International, told Sky News they should be recognized as polluters due to their “pervasive polluting nature”.

“At this time, the pellets are not classified for transport by sea in any way,” Ms Cox said.

“We need to see nurdles officially classified as marine pollutants so that they are packaged more strictly, they are labeled more clearly and the presence of pellets on ships is communicated to operators so that they can be stored under the bridge more safely and appropriately.

“If we don’t see it happening, I think it’s really a case of saying time is running out.”

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