Just when we thought we knew all about the environmental threats caused by plastics, environmentalists have identified yet another problem. It is called a nurdle.
Nurdles are tiny pellets of plastic resin no bigger than a pencil eraser that manufacturers transform into packaging, plastic straws, water bottles and all the other things that are wreaking havoc on the environment.
It turns out that nurdles themselves are a problem because billions of them are lost from production and supply chains during handling, shipping and production every year, spilling or washing into waterways. There is limited information on the extent of this kind of plastic pollution and global researchers are still struggling to make an accurate assessment. A study last year estimated that 3 million to 36 million pellets escape every year from just one small industrial area in Sweden.
Eunomia, a British environmental consultancy, contends that nurdles are the second-largest source of microplastic pollution and estimated that the U.K. could be unwittingly losing billions of pellets into the environment every year.
New research is revealing the ubiquity of plastic pellets, from the bellies of fish caught in the South Pacific, to the digestive tracks of short-tailed albatross in the north and on the beaches of the Mediterranean.
A shareholder advocacy group called As You Sow has filed resolutions with Chevron, DowDupont, Exxon Mobil, and Phillips 66 asking them to disclose how many nurdles escape their production process each year and how they plan to address the issue. Several of the companies have responded with statements saying they are working to develop solutions that keep plastic out of our environment.
Photo, posted January 15, 2014, courtesy of Hillary Daniels via Flickr.