Plastic pellet (nurdles) releases to the environment have likely been occurring since the mass production of plastic began in the 1950s. The first documented evidence of nurdles in scientific literature was in 1972. Many peer-reviewed research papers are now available on the impacts these tiny plastic pellets are having on the environment.
The Nurdle Patrol data collected by citizen scientists are showing high concentrations of pellets at beaches, riverbanks, at plastic manufacturing sites, along railroads used for transporting pellets, at distribution centers, and at processing plants. The problem of plastic pellet loss is wide-spread throughout the entire supply chain and solutions to remedy the problem can be imbedded in regulation, policy, and cooperation with industry and regulatory agencies.
The American Chemical Council developed a voluntary program in 1991 called Operation Clean Sweep. This is a voluntarily program designed to help plastics industries to prevent pellets from getting into the marine environment. While there are many best management practices found in this program, including training for employees, Nurdle Patrol data collected around facilities that are involved in this program indicate that pellets are still getting into the environment. A lack of external audits makes it difficult to assess whether the program is effectively implemented at signatory sites, and, despite being available for almost 30 years, the program has reached only a fraction of companies within the plastics supply chain.
Nurdle Patrol has initiated a number of key research initiatives to look at plastic pellet impacts on the environment, including fingerprinting the chemical makeup of nurdles to determine batch numbers within a sample with funding support by 11th Hour Racing. Also, looking at chemical concentrations absorbed into nurdles with funding support by the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program. We’re also engaged in media across the country to inform about the plastic pellet pollution and bring awareness to a national scale. Finally, we host a Texas Plastic Pollution Symposium each year to bring researchers from around Texas together to increase collaboration on plastics in the environment research.
Our partners in the United Kingdom, Fidra, have been working since 2014 to create awareness on a global scale through The Great Nurdle Hunt; a worldwide citizen science project aimed at building a clearer picture of pellet pollution globally. The data collected has enabled conversations with industry, NGOs and government on developing a solution to this problem. Nurdle Patrol actively shares its data with Fidra’s global nurdle map to emphasize the global impact of the pollution issue.
Their work to stop pellet loss at source is not only about raising awareness of the problem, and Fidra have worked actively with industry across the UK and Europe to promote best practice and develop case studies showcasing industry leadership. Fidra have commissioned research into quantifying pellet loss and investigating the best options for solving this complex supply chain issue.
Fidra are currently working with decision makers, industry associations and partner NGOs to call for a new Supply Chain Approach to pellet loss, to make sure pellet handling companies across the full plastics supply chain have standardized, externally verified best practices in place. They are currently members of a cross-stakeholder steering group organized by The Scottish Government to develop active trials of a supply chain approach to pellet loss.
Steps for Making Change
A first step is documenting if your community has a problem with plastic pellet pollution. Involvement with Nurdle Patrol will help collect data and information to determine the size and scale of pellet pollution in your region. If you find nurdles along a riverbank, lake shoreline, or beach, you can contact your state’s regulatory agency and ask them about permit requirements for facilities producing or handling plastic pellets. The Nurdle Patrol sampling methodology is published, the database is reviewed daily for quality assurance, and a training video is available in multiple locations. All of this gives credibility to the data being collected. Regulatory permit language that can help reduce plastic pollution is “zero plastic pellet, flakes, and powders” allowed in the discharge of any plastic manufactures, transporters, or handlers.
The small size of these pellets is one of the main factors why they are hard to contain, but there are some easy solutions that the plastics industry can take to keep these pellets from being released so that these pellets don’t end up in the marine environment. Some solutions for companies include making necessary upgrades to equipment or onsite containment facilities, conduct employee trainings and site audits to identify spill areas and why they occur, and implement routine inspections to ensure plastic pellet free areas.
Locally in Texas, Nurdle Patrol consulted with the Surfrider Foundation Texas Coastal Bend Chapter, who recently drafted a Texas Nurdle Bill to reduce plastic pellet discharge. Please let us know if you plan to use the Bill in your state and we can help advise on the process and keep track of which states are pursuing this solution.
We have a couple of tools to help individuals and organizations stay connected, including a Nurdle Patrol Facebook page, a News page on NurdlePatrol.org website, videos on the Mission-Aransas YouTube Channel, and monthly emails (sign up for emails at firstname.lastname@example.org) to citizen scientists, partners, plastics industry representatives, media, and regulatory agency officials.