The International Maritime Organization is considering tightening controls on the transport of plastic pellets, known as ‘nurdles’, following a series of releases around the world.
The danger of nurdles for the environment
Plastic resin granules are one of the most common microplastic marine pollutants.
The danger of nurdles to the environment cannot be underestimated. These plastic resin pellets, less than 5 mm in size, are found on beaches from New Zealand to the coast of England. Hundreds of millions of plastic pellets end up in ocean waters. Moreover, such microplastics are increasingly becoming the cause of the death of dolphins, turtles, whales and many other representatives of marine fauna.
Toxin-absorbing plastic pellets are often mistaken for food by marine life. Eating nurdles is often fatal to animals.
Nurdles themselves are a building material produced by petrochemical companies. They are used in industry and in the manufacture of plastic products (including plastic bottles, containers, bags, pipelines).
In May 2021, the container ship X‑Press Pearl crashed in the Indian Ocean. After the ship sank, billions of Nurdles washed up on the shores of Sri Lanka. The United Nations said that about 1,680 tons of nurds entering the ocean waters was the worst maritime disaster in the history of Sri Lanka.
Following the sinking of the X-Press Pearl, Sri Lankan officials, in an appeal to the International Maritime Organization, insisted that immediate steps be taken to regulate and better coordinate the handling and transport of plastic pellets. “Voluntary plastic industry initiatives are not enough.”
The University of Texas Research Center calculated that it takes 1,005 nurdles to make a plastic bottle and 665 nurdles to make a toothbrush. To make a bag from a supermarket – 174 plastic granules.
Nearly 370 million tons of plastic are produced annually. Almost a third of production comes from China.
The danger of nurdles for the environment remains a topical issue in 2022. According to The Guardian, the UN specialized agency the International Maritime Organization has asked pollution experts to explore options to “reduce the environmental risk associated with maritime transportation of plastic pellets (nurdles)”. The group of experts will present its findings at a meeting in April 2023, the organization said.
Insurance companies also want to tighten the rules for transporting and storing nurdles
Jörg Asmussen, chief executive of the German Insurance Association, said: “A plastic granule that has fallen overboard could cause great environmental damage in the long term and threaten coastal biodiversity.”