Press Release: Nurdling 9 to 5 - over half a million nurdles found on Scottish beach

nurdle squareNurdling 9 to 5 – what a way to make a difference!

 

A few weeks ago, alongside Marine Conservation Society, and support from Forth Valley College, The Conservation Volunteers and the local community council (as well as avid nurdle hunters!) we headed to Bo'ness beach to collect as many pellets as we possibly could over a full 8 hour day. Over the day we managed to collect a remarkable ~540,000 pellets! Well done everyone!! 

 

Despite our best efforts, we barely scratched the surface and many more pellets were left on the beach. The following press release highlights the levels of pollution found on hot-spot beaches such as this.

 

The story has already been covered by an exclusive in the Scotland on Sunday.

 

Coverage of this story includes articles on BBC Scotland online and The National.

Nurdling 9 to 5 – what a way to make a difference!

Over half a million plastic nurdles collected during an 8 hour beach clean on the Firth of Forth.

For immediate release - please click HERE to download the full document and there is a link to high-resolution images HERE.

 

16th October 2017 An estimated 540,000 nurdles were collected from a small section of beach on the Firth of Forth. Volunteers spent 8 hours collecting these plastic pellets, scooping them up with dustpans, tweezers and sieves. Despite all this, the difference to the beach was barely noticeable at the end of the day with pellets still making up a major proportion of the beach sediment.

Nurdles are lentil-sized plastic pellets. They are the raw material melted down to make virtually all our plastic products – from bin bags to bottle tops. The UK processes around 3 million tonnes of plastics a year[1], almost all in nurdle form. These pellets are easily spilled during handling, and if not cleaned up, they can end up down drains, in waterways and eventually at sea.

In the marine environment nurdles can be mistaken for food by animals such as fish and seabirds. Like other microplastic, they can disturb normal feeding and affect growth and nutrition. Nurdles can concentrate persistent organic pollutants to their surface from surrounding sea water, and release these potentially toxic chemicals into animals that eat them or feed near them. Although not yet fully understood, there are emerging human health concerns relating to microplastics[2].

The beach clean was organised by environmental charity Fidra (The Great Nurdle Hunt), alongside Marine Conservation Society Scotland. “We usually ask volunteers to simply estimate how many pellets they see on the beach, but this becomes difficult when there are such large quantities” says Fidra’s project officer Madeleine Berg. “With the ‘Nurdling 9-5’ event, we wanted to get a better idea of how many pellets were on a highly polluted beach. Although we collected nurdles all day, we barely scratched the surface. From these estimates, there must be many millions on this small stretch of beach alone.” Sadly, this beach is not unique. Others have been shown to have similar pellet problems. For example, estimates for Limekilns beach on the Fife coast vary between 200 000 to over 2 million pellets on a 110m stretch depending on the year[3]. This problem is by no means limited to the shores of the Forth however – a nationwide survey earlier this year revealed that 73% of beaches searched had nurdles present[4].

Sarah Archer, manager of Fidra’s pellet loss project, says “removing all pellets from beaches is a near-impossible task, instead we focus on stopping these pellets escaping in the first place.” Fidra uses the information gathered by volunteers for The Great Nurdle Hunt to raise awareness of the problem directly with industry and decision makers. Simple best practice measures can mean spills are prevented and cleaned up properly. However, currently no checks are in place to make sure these measures are applied effectively. “We want to ensure the positive changes made by parts of industry are now applied right across the supply-chain” says Archer. “The plastics supply chain is complex, but legislation would make sure all companies handling plastic pellets do so responsibly, and that this source of microplastic pollution is eliminated.”

The MSP for the Falkirk East constituency, Angus MacDonald, joined Fidra for a tour of the beach in 2016, and members of his constituency team were able to join the clean-up this year. He states “The work Fidra has done to date to raise awareness in industry and the wider public has to be commended. The Great Nurdle Hunts have helped bring the issue to the public’s attention. I’m pleased that industry representatives in my Falkirk East constituency have acknowledged the issue, however it is clear that legislation must be seriously considered to ensure the handling of plastic pellets at all stages is properly monitored and controlled.”

 

[1] 2015 figure. British Plastics Federation About the British Plastics Industry [Website, accessed 09/10/17]

[2] Wright and Kelly (2017) Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue? Environ Sci Technol. 2017 Jun 20;51(12):6634-6647 ; Microsplastics in the sea a growing threat to human health, United Nations warns. Independent, Saturday 21 May 2016

[3] Christine Switzer BSc MSc PhD, Lecturer, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Strathclyde University. Pers. comm.

[4] The Great Winter Nurdle Hunt, February 2017. Results available here.


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