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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

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Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

Plastic Soup Foundation organizes a pellet count in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, 28 January 2019 – At the start of this month freighter MSC Zoe lost at least 292 containers, some of which were filled with pellets. Pellets, also called nurdles and no more than 5 millimeters big, are used to make plastic products. The beach of Schiermonnikoog was covered with millions of these plastic granules. Because they can have a huge ecological impact on the fragile nature of the mudflats, the University of Groningen is investigating where they ended up. Contrary to larger pieces of plastic, these pellets can barely be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the loss of the millions of pellets on the Wadden Sea wasn’t an exception. In October 2017 nurdles from two cargo ships entered the ocean near the South African harbor town of Durban, after which a massive amount washed ashore. Furthermore, a recent Danish report shows that an extraordinary number of pellets were found in the environment around Danish plastic factories – the royal warrant holders of Lego. In May 2018 around 450.000 pellets were found on just one beach in Scotland; twelve miles from the Ineos Polymers factory where they are produced. And in 2016 English consultant Eunomia calculated that up to 53 billion plastic pellets are lost and end up in the environment in the United Kingdom alone.

It is not surprising that pellet loss is considered to be one of the major causes of the plastic soup. Yet there is no national or international organization monitoring it. Because this has actually been a known problem for a long time, plastic manufacturers have voluntarily united in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). By its own account, this industrial initiative applies the best possible practices to prevent pellets from ending up in the ocean. But basically, the industry has free rein and is never fined or confronted. The past 25 years the OCS has also never had to publicly show their accountability. MacKerron, vice president of the American NGO As You Sow: “Operation Clean Sweep provides no transparency on the scope and nature of spills or efforts made to clean up. Given what we know about the alarming rates of plastic leakage into oceans, companies can no longer hide behind vague pledges of best practices. They need to provide prompt and detailed disclosure about specific actions taken to prevent spills, and when spills occur, information on spill size, and actions taken to clean up.”

As You Sow has called to account the American pellet manufacturers Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil and Philips 66 during shareholders’ meetings, and have demanded the creation of at least yearly reports that map the spills, describe which measures have been taken and how the spills were cleaned up.

It is extremely important to gather evidence, so we can enforce measures that lead to the industry taking care of transport without pellet loss. Where and in what concentrations are the pellets found on coastlines and shores? Everyone can simply help build this data with a smartphone, whether alone or in a group. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place between Friday 8 and Sunday 17 February.

With that in mind The Plastic Soup Foundation will organize various pellet counts in the Netherlands that week, at new and still secret hot spot locations in places such as Zeeland and Limburg. Join us and sign up by e-mailing michielp@plasticsoupfoundation.org. You will then receive more information on dates, times and locations.