Pure plastic bead is a nurdle. As a synthetic ore, it is the fundamental component of almost all plastic products; their creators refer to it as "pre-production plastic pellets" or "resins." Every year, trillions of nurdles are produced from natural gas or oil, shipped to factories around the world, melted and poured into moulds, and then used to produce water bottles, sewage pipes, steering wheels, and millions of other plastic products.
The cause of Worry
These pellets are produced using fossil fuels, which already pose a threat to our planet. As a result of their greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels expedite global warming. However, the harm caused by nurdles extends far beyond that of fossil fuels.
Aquatic life and food chain
Hundreds of fish species, some of which are consumed by humans, and many species of seabirds consume these plastic pellets. Researchers are concerned that consumption of nurdles may obstruct their digestive tracts, leading to death by starvation. Once ingested, the pellets inhibit appetite and deprive marine species of the energy necessary for foraging, growing, reproducing, and avoiding predators.
Plastic's most notorious characteristic is its immortality, it hardly decomposes and only fragments into ever-smaller pieces. In the ocean, nurdles become brittle as a result of exposure to the sun and the impact of the waves, and they fragment over time, releasing toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases. These ever-shrinking microplastics, only visible through a microscope, pose some of the greatest dangers to the marine ecosystem; plastics this small have been ingested by plankton, the base of the entire marine food chain.
Recent research has revealed that microplastics can be found in the blood of up to 80% of all adult humans, where they may be harmful to our cells. Even if we do not consume the plastic beads, they always seem to find their way back to us.
Removal is near impossible
One of the most dangerous aspects of nurdle pollution is that it is nearly impossible to remove them once they have entered the ocean. It is crucial that we act quickly to prevent nurdles from escaping. Microplastics are more difficult to remove than larger objects such as fishing nets and plastic bottles. Due to their tiny size and light weight, oceanic currents can effortlessly transport them over vast distances, making it nearly impossible to trace and remove them.
The Sri Lankan disaster- lesson to be learned
A cargo ship carrying plastic pellets caught fire and sank off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2021. This caused billions of pellets, many of which were contaminated with oil and other debris from the wreckage, to wash up along island's coastlines.
According to a report from the United Nations, the incident was the "single largest plastic spill" in history, with approximately 1,680 metric tonnes of nurdles released into the ocean. According to reports, the damage to marine life was immense, with many pellets reduced to particles too small for cleanup efforts to address.
From production to decomposition, plastic is a major contributor to environmental destruction, accelerating the greenhouse gas effect; its long journey has posed a greater threat to humanity than ever before.
Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) is a voluntary, free programme that aims to increase awareness, promote best practises, and provide guidance and tools to assist companies in the plastics value chain in implementing the necessary pellet loss prevention measures.
In contrast to substances such as kerosene, diesel, and gasoline, nurdles are not considered hazardous under the International Maritime Organization's (IMO's) code for the safe handling and storage of dangerous goods. This is despite the fact that the environmental threat posed by plastic pellets has been known for decades now. It is crucial that the international community takes an interest in this subject and adds it to the list of hazardous substances, as this will allow for better regulation and management, thereby saving not only marine life but also our own.