A special nurdle catcher that doubles up as a frisbee.
A special nurdle catcher that doubles up as a frisbee.

Overcoming the nurdle hurdle

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Oct 9, 2021

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REMEMBER, remember the 10th of October!

Two initiatives are in progress to rid the ocean of nurdles, many of which entered the sea after Durban’s freak storm in 2017.

Freak weather struck Durban, bringing record-breaking rain measuring 108mm in 24 hours, flooding roads and stranding thousands of motorists, damaging homes and businesses and ripping a vessel from its moorings, causing it to the block the harbour mouth.

Eight people died.

Tomorrow (Sunday), that will be four years ago.

Into the mess came the spilling of millions of tiny plastic nurdles when two containers fell into the harbour water.

“This resulted in 2.2 billion nurdles being spilt in the Durban Harbour. These washed up along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline from Ballito to the KZN South Coast. Only 72% of that spill has been cleaned to date,” said Clare Swithenbank-Bowman, the founder of the non-profit organisation Litter4Tokens.

Swithenbank-Bowman said that in addition to the spill, there was another spill of more than 174.5 tons in August 2020 off Plettenberg Bay, and there had been illegal dumping of nurdles by KZN manufacturers upstream in rivers, with nurdles washing up on eThekwini beaches.

“To date, only 12.6% of these nurdles have been retrieved.”

Nurdles are lentil-sized plastic pellets made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride, among others.

“These pellets are shipped, shrink-wrapped in 25kg bags on pallet bases, to factories around the world that melt them down to form plastic products,” read a Litter4Tokens release.

“Currently, nurdles are not considered hazardous as per the OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) Hazard Communication Standard and IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) code.

“In fact, most shippers don’t even know they have them on board, but if containers are lost at sea, the bags will split open, dispersing the nurdles.

“Once released, these microplastics are hugely detrimental to marine ecosystems and humans, because they quickly find their way into the food system leading to ulceration, starvation and death. They do not biodegrade and a recent discovery indicated that nurdles follow the same ocean currents as turtles, making them particularly hazardous for these species.”

Together with Lifesaving South Africa, and the Centre of Regenerative Design and Collaboration, the NPO has launched the Litter4Tokens Nurdle SA Clean-Up Competition, which will run until February next year.

Collection drums will be located at identified lifesaving clubs along the South African coastline, from Cape Town to KwaDukuza (formerly Stanger).

“People can use the drums to dispose of nurdles ‒ also referred to as mermaid’s tears ‒ with prizes awarded to the lifesaving club and the individual that collects the most nurdles during the eight-month stretch,” read a press release.

“It’s important that the drums are used because nurdles cannot be placed in recycling bins.”

Lending support to the competition is Grant “Twiggy” Baker, legendary South African big wave surfer and three-time WSL World Champion.

“Nurdle pollution is a huge problem. Almost every beach I travel to around the world has these environmentally disastrous pieces of plastic on them,” he said.

Litter4Tokens has developed the innovative Mermaid Tear Catcher (MTC), a scooping device with holes specifically demarcated allowing the user to sieve the nurdles out of the sea or river sand.

“It is made from ocean-bound plastic, and all funds raised from the sales go towards the Litter4Tokens kiosks in South Africa, thereby creating a perfect, circular economy.

“The MTC can be ordered online at www.litter4tokens.co.za and, when not used for collecting nurdles, it doubles as a frisbee.”

Meanwhile, another global citizen scientist effort to clear the oceans of nurdles has been started by Scottish environmental charity Fidra.

“We hope to showcase the results of the Great Global Nurdle Hunt at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow, Scotland) next month, this is an important opportunity to get pellet pollution on the agenda of international decision makers,” said project officer Megan Kirton.

“We are calling for industry to take responsibility for the pellets they handle, and ensure that effective best practice measures are implemented at all stages of the supply chain to stop this loss at source.”

The Great Global Nurdle Hunt is aimed at encouraging people across the world to help build evidence of the problem.

“By organising nurdle hunts all over the world, covering thousands of miles of coastline, you can help us show how big this problem is,” read the website www.nurdlehunt.org.uk.

The Independent on Saturday

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