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At least 24 million nurdles washed up on dutch beaches

Amsterdam, 14thMarch 2019 – A small 24 million ‘nurdles’ have been washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen (NL).  Cause? Containers falling overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe, early 2019. This has been established by researchers at State University Groningen (NL). The loss of nurdles initially appeared to be a one-off, but is in reality a structural problem.

Earlier this year, 350 containers fell overboard from the freighter MSC Zoe. Several containers held plastic nurdles, raw material for products made from plastic. These washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Sea Islands and also landed along the dikes of Friesland and Groningen. Nurdles are extremely difficult to clean up although in Schiermonnikoog (NL) they are attempting the job with a specially adapted ‘vacuum cleaner’.

They’re sure to keep washing ashore too. Researchers at State University Groningen (RUG-NL) have invented a clever way to map just where they can be found, with the use of volunteers and an interactive map at waddenplastic.nl .To enable this analysis, RUG researchers, along with the volunteers, map out quadrants along the flood line measuring 40x40cm and actually count all nurdles found in each section. This is repeated every ten metres, after which they enter the data on the website. Currently there have been three hundred quadrants counted, giving the baseline estimate of 24 million.

Recent evidence also indicates that containers falling overboard can definitely lead to veritable nurdle disasters. It has happened before in South Africa and in Hong Kong. However, we’re wondering how things stand with daily loss of nurdles and Shoreliner offers us insight there.

A quarter of a million nurdles are counted every two months.

The Shoreliner catches floating plastic waste along rivers and removes it. The office of Tauw Civil Engineers has developed this system for the Port of Rotterdam NV and the Directorate General of Public Works and Water Management (NL). It recently won an award as most sustainable project by the Port of Rotterdam.

The Shoreliner has been operating in the Lekhaven (NL) for two years already and is cleared out on alternate months. Apart from other floating plastic waste, approximately 250,000 nurdles are counted at every clear-out. This means around 3 million of them every year at this spot alone. The amount that reaches the sea via the Nieuwe Waterweg (NL) is reckoned at multiples of the amounts washing up from the containers lost by MSC Zoe.

No pacts have been made and nothing agreed about the loss of nurdles.

The nurdles collected in the Lekhaven originate at plastics manufactories situated upstream. These manufacturers are extremely shoddy in the use of their plastics, despite the sincere promises from the industry as a whole, around Operation Clean Sweep with regards to the prevention of loss of these nurdles.

The Plastic Pact was recently ratified. This contains the promise to reduce the amount of waste plastics in the environment by 20%, by the year 2025. Agreements about the loss of nurdles, however, are missing within this pact. Individual plastics manufacturers such as Dow Chemical, Sabic, or Brealis, failed to add their signatures to the agreement, although the trade organisation under which they fall and to which they are affiliated, The Federation of Dutch Rubber and Plastics Industries (NRK-NL), did sign. The question is, will the NRK actually tackle the problem of nurdle loss, or not.

Research collaboration

Together with the North Sea Society (SNZ-NL) and IVN (NL), we at The Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF-NL) are carrying out research around Clean Rivers which concerns the waste collected in the rivers and along the riverbanks of the River Maas and the River Waal. The nurdle scores high among items found in Dutch rivers. This research is about to be widely extended thanks to an important donation from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

MD of PSF, Marian Westerbos: “Until there is real and documented commitment within the industry and while this continues to be unsanctioned, nurdles will continue to stream into the North Sea at a massive rate. This is a disaster that’s happening every single day.”


Do also read: Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions