UN seeks plan to defeat plastic nurdles, tiny scourges of oceans | Pollution
Maritime authorities are considering tougher controls on the ocean transport of billions of plastic pellets called nurdles after a series of spills around the world.
Campaigners warn that nurdles are one of the most common microplastic pollutants in the seas, washing up on beaches from New Zealand to Cornwall. The multicolored pellets produced by petrochemical companies are used as building blocks for plastic products, from bags to bottles and pipes.
Billions of nurdles washed up in Sri Lanka in May last year after the container ship X-Press Pearl caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean. The United Nations has declared the spill of around 1,680 tonnes of nurdles to be the worst maritime disaster in Sri Lanka’s history, with an official saying the spill resembled a “cluster bomb”.
The International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, has asked pollution experts to look at options to “reduce the environmental risk from shipping plastic pellets (nurdles)”. The IMO said a group of experts would submit their findings for a meeting in April next year.
Sri Lanka has requested that nurdes transported in container ships be identified as a harmful substance and a hazard to the marine environment. This would mean stricter procedures to reduce the risk of spillage.
In a communication from Sri Lanka to the IMO after the sinking of the X-Press Pearl, officials said: “The incident resulted in the death of marine species such as turtles, whales and dolphins.
“Immediate steps must be taken to regulate and better coordinate the handling, management and transport of plastic pellets throughout the supply chain. Voluntary initiatives by the plastics industry are not enough.
Sri Lanka’s appeal was supported by Norway. In February 2020, the freighter Trans Carrier dumped over 13 tonnes of nurdles, which scattered along the coasts of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
The environmental association Fidra, based in Scotland, organizes the great nurdle hunt to monitor the pollution of pellets in the world. He says the nurdles are tiny, persistent and potentially poisonous.
They were found littered along the UK coast, with 401,230 nurdles collected in a single cleanup on Tregantle beach near Plymouth. They have also been found on the Dorset coast, the Isles of Scilly, Anglesey and on the banks of the River Thames in London.
Nearly 370 million tons of plastic are produced each year, with China accounting for almost a third. A research center at the University of Texas estimated that it takes 1,005 nurdles to make a plastic bottle, 665 nurdles to make a toothbrush, and 174 to make a grocery bag.
Campaigners say billions of nurdles pollute rivers and seas each year due to accidental spills during production and transport.
Insurance companies also want stricter rules for shipping and storing nurdles, due to the financial and environmental costs of spills.
Jörg Asmussen, managing director of the German Insurance Association, said: “Nurdles that have gone too far can cause significant long-term environmental damage and threaten the biodiversity of coastal areas.”