Norma sat comfortably but anxious as the Uber drove from the airport to her beachfront community in Siesta Key. She felt warm, though the car seemed to be blasting cool air. She took a issue from her plastic pack of tissues and wiped a tear just beneath her right eye.
It’s been almost a year since Charlie died. She and Charlie were married over 40 years in a coastal town in Maine. When their kids moved, She and C (as she called him) bought the condo off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first time Norma snowbirded alone, a little early for the season. She felt she couldn’t bear the cold another year without C.
It’s a long trip from the Tampa airport. She pulled a plastic bag from her carry bag. She tried to get an organic roll. She was frustrated trying to remove its plastic Stay-Fresh package but her stubbornness and hunger aided her.
Norma disliked plastic. But she realized how much plastic was reality. She enjoyed non-stick pans and used plastic utensils. Her phone, tablet, and computer are plastic. Not to mention her travel bags, and some of her clothes. My, plastics were all around!
She and C respected proper disposal of plastic products. Their children were both conservationists, as scientists for studying climate change. “But”, Norma said to herself, “So many people don’t recognize that we need to balance benefits and act responsibly with consequences.” She placed the emptied package into her carry bag.
It was mid-morning as the sun peered through her windows. “From 25 to 80”, she smiled. Norma was dressed and ready for the beach.
“Odd,” she thought as she approached the sandy area. “there’s nobody around”. The sand beneath her feet wasn’t fine and flat. It felt coarse, as if walking on salt. She thought that there might be a maintenance issue. She never reads her e-mail memos.
Time for a short dip. She walked into the water. Although the water was warm, she screamed. When she came ashore, Norma was bleeding and bruised.
Was it a sea creature? A baby shark? A monster from the deep? An alien?
Actually, it was more ominous and dark. It was of this planet and they seemed to be everywhere. They are man-made creatures called Nurdles.
Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. Countless billion are used each year to make nearly all our plastic products but many end up washing up on our shores. A nurdle is a pre-production plastic pellet.
Plastic resin pellet pollution is a type of marine debris originating from plastic particles utilized in manufacturing large-scale plastics. Commonly referred to as nurdles, these plastics are released into the open environment, creating pollution in the oceans and on beaches. These are manufactured at factories near large bodies of water. In the USA and in other manufacturing countries.
Nurdles the pre-production building blocks for nearly all plastic goods, from soft drink bottles to oil pipelines. Nurdles are bought in bulk for melting, molding, extruding for millions of products used world-wide. Plastics originating as nurdles are in your car, in rails, boats and jets. They may be disguised as metallic or wood. When you touch them, they are plastic.
The Earth Day statisticians state: More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016. That is up from about 300 billion only a decade ago. About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That’s nearly 2 million every minute. The amount of bubble wrap used around the world may be wrapped around the equator 10 times. All these and more may owe their origins to nurdles.
Researchers say nurdles weigh an average of approximately 20 milligrams each, and may be found virtually everywhere. It is estimated that more than 250,000 tons enter the ocean annually. If marine life ingest nurdles, they may be endangered. Research shows that nurdles can absorb chemicals like DDT, a now widely banned insecticide; PCBs, a group of manmade industrial chemicals; and mercury.
A report commissioned by Fidra in 2016 estimates that up to 53 billion nurdles may be spilled each year from land-based sources in the UK alone. That’s equivalent to losing up to 88 million plastic bottles to sea over the course of a year.
At the small-end of nurdles infestation is pollution can also lead to significant economic losses, for example through losses in revenue from tourism and the cost of beach cleaning.
So what’s the source of nurdle pollution?
In consideration that nurdles are pre-production synthetic cells that make up most plastic products, pre-production plastic factories are the main source.
A plastic pellet is manufactured. A catalyst is combined with ethylene or propylene in a reactor, resulting in “fluff,” a powdered material (polymer) resembling laundry detergent. After that the polymer is fed to an extruder where it is melted. Melted plastic is cooled then fed to a pelletizer that cuts the product into small pellets. Pellets are shipped to customers. But as a byproduct of manufacturing, pellets make their way to waterways near factories.
Nurdles that become lost during transit or manufacturing are also an environmental hazard. In the ocean and along coastal waterways, they absorb toxic chemicals and are often mistaken for food by animals. At an average size of a 2mm ball these may be mistaken for food.
According to Business Insider, In 2018, thousands of pounds of nurdles wound up in a stream in Pennsylvania after a semi-truck that was carrying them crashed along a highway. The following year, piles of nurdles washed up on Sullivan’s Island beach near Charleston, South Carolina. The state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control later attributed the pollution to a spill from a local shipping company.
Finding actual sources are difficult. There are a few in and near Texas’ gulf coast. Thes pre-production plastic factories provide employment to depressed communities. Generally, pre-production plastic manufacturers have an unaccountable worldwide network.
Much like Earth Day is the annual Global Nurdle Hunt. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt is an annual event (first run in 2019) which aims to build upon the worldwide engagement around the issue of nurdles and support calls for effective mitigating action at industry and government levels. It is scheduled for March 13 – 22 in 2020. The Nurdle Hunt collects data and advocates solutions, albeit mostly focused towards increasing personal responsibility. Nurdle Hint has no legislative authority.
Climate change has some very precarious resources from volcanic vents to nurdle pollution. These will definitely impact the planet in 2050 and prevention requires serious, stern, and authoritative accountability so humans can survive many centuries. At this point, Nurdle Pollution and unacceptability to legislation is as serious as nuclear war.
As far as Norma’s beach incident, she’s fine. Fortunately, the community has a filtered swimming pool. Common charges will increase as staff places netting to prevent further nurdle pollution to accumulate. Sand will be replaced. Yes, new labor for a disconcerting future. Norma is happier.