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Great Nurdle Hunt Reports Shocking Levels of Worldwide Pollution #COP26

A collection of nurdles found by Wild Oceans, South Africa, during The Great Global Nurdle Hunt. Image credit: Wild Oceans, South Africa/The Great Nurdle Hunt

The 2021 Great Global Nurdle Hunt was the biggest yet. Citizens across 23 countries scoured coastlines for nurdles, tiny plastic pellets, in October.

The results are now in:
• A total of 274 nurdle hunts took place during over the whole month of October (1st – 31st October 2021).
• Nurdles were found in 91% of all countries surveyed.
• Nurdle hunts took place in the following 23 countries: United Arab Emirates, Australia, Belgium, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Spain, United Kingdom, Guernsey, Greece, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, United States, South Africa, Italy.
• 925 people took part in the global event this year including 48 organisations, businesses, and community groups from across the world.
• A total of 730 volunteer hours were spent hunting.

A map of nurdle hunts and countries that participated in The Great Global Nurdle Hunt 2021 Image credit: Fidra/ The Great Nurdle Hunt

The Great Global Nurdle Hunt is run by environmental charity Fidra with the support of volunteers and NGOs worldwide. The results show that nurdles were found in 91% of countries that took part (21 out of 23).

Nurdles are small round pellets produced by the plastics industry and are melted down to make nearly all our plastic products, from car parts to medical supplies. These small pellets are adding up to a big pollution problem.

Nurdles are often mishandled by industry and leak out across all parts of the global plastics supply chain. Once produced in plastic manufacturing plants, nurdles travel far and wide across the globe being shipped and couriered to multiple destinations before they are made into a plastic product.

At each stage of transport and handling, nurdles can be spilled into the environment. These will eventually end up in the food chain having been consumed by animals.

The results released from the month-long global survey in October demonstrate that nurdles are polluting coastlines worldwide and people all over the world want to see further action to address the issue.

Strandliners, England who took park in the Great Global Nurdle Hunt. Image credit: Andy D

Nurdles are a persistent pollutant once in the environment. Some of the nurdles counted in South Africa this year are likely to be from the 2017 Durban pellet spill. Billions of pellets spilled into the sea after a container fell from a ship in the port. The global survey also highlights nurdle pollution from another nurdle spill off the coast of Sri Lanka this year, which is thought to be the biggest nurdle spill to date.

These repeated spills across the world demonstrate this an ongoing global problem and that current voluntary industry initiatives to contain nurdles are not sufficient to solve it.

Fidra presented the results of the Great Global Nurdle Hunt at COP26 in Glasgow on November 9th 2021.

Megan Kirton, Fidra, said:

“We can’t keep using energy and fossil fuels to make plastic that ends up in the environment. Nurdle pollution demonstrates plastic is being wasted before it has even been used to make anything, which is a huge waste of resources and a threat to wildlife.”

Nurdles in the environment represent a huge waste of resources. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels, and the production of nurdles contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

If growth of the plastics industry continues, it will account for 20% of global oil consumption by 2050 (CIEL 2021, Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet). Once in the environment nurdles are almost impossible to remove, reuse, or recycle, and studies have shown that plastic on beaches can release CO2, ethylene, methane and propane gases that all contribute to the greenhouse effect (Royer et al, 2018).

A community group in Fife, Global Nurdle Hunt. Image credit: : Joanne M, Scotland/ The Great Nurdle Hunt

Nurdles are an example of how plastic pollution is adding to pressures already faced by ecosystems and coastal communities today. Reducing plastic and chemical pollution is vital if we are to address the dual biodiversity and climate crises.

Melissa Nel a Volunteer Coordinator and Research Assistant for The Orca Foundation in South Africa, found over 10,000 nurdles in two days whilst participating in the event.

She said:

“About 1 year ago nurdles started washing up in huge numbers along Plettenberg Bays beaches and there has been a huge community drive to help assist in the nurdle problem – which has been amazing. But there is still a lot of work to do. It is the worst of times, but it is the best of times because we still have a chance to make a difference. The Orca Foundation is grateful to be able to educate and make a positive impact on our environment, as well as our community, every day.”

What is the solution to nurdle pollution?

Fidra along with other NGOs around the world are pushing for global solutions to this plastic pollution issue. Fidra are working with industry, trade associations, NGOs and decision makers to work towards a pellet supply chain free of nurdle pollution.

You can read Fidra’s report here:

Nurdle hunters with Parley for the Oceans, Sri Lanka. Image credit: Parley for the Oceans, Sri Lanka/ The Great Nurdle Hun

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