Nurdles, bio-beads and importance to the environment, all wildlife and ourselves

Understanding what we are talking about is a small first step to addressing the concerns these tiny, potentially toxic pieces of plastic raise (they can be coated with chemicals). Nurdles are used in the production of plastic items and bio-beads (also known as Biological Aerated Flooded Filter Media BAFF) can be used in sewage treatment plants. Many find their way into our rivers and seas through spillages and in the past, discarding excesses that way. They are small enough to be thought of as food items by birds and marine animals and we now know they are in our food chain and to greater or lesser extents in ourselves, through eating these creatures. They will not disappear.

©Nurdle Free

The Nurdle Free Oceans organisation is promoting awareness and campaigning to support the Clean up Our Seas campaign with particular emphasis on encouraging industrial organisations to prevent spills in to our water ways in the first place. 

With growing awareness people are now becoming nurdle ‘hunters’ across the world identifying places where they have been found, in what concentrations and with what types of nurdle.

©Nurdle Free
©Nurdle Free

Why have I become a nurdle hunter? At a local beach clean a marine biologist working together with Surfers Against Sewage representatives explained what nurdles were, similar in size to bio-beads, and spoke about spills in South Devon rivers and sea. We were shown how to find them (and it took seconds to do so) by simply sweeping your fingers through a small patch of dry sand. I was staggered that so many, hardly bigger than a grain of sand and of different colours, some more worn than others, were found by a group of about a dozen people within minutes! It made me wonder how many people have used the beach like myself for many years and not realised the intruders were there. I understand that sources of bio-beads can be traced by virtue of their colour, as different manufacturers use different colourings, whereas nurdles are harder to trace back. I now visit the beach with a kitchen sieve and glass jar to, in a very small way, catch nurdles and bio-beads and later dispose of them carefully. I have no idea how deep down into the sand they go. I have also spoken to visiting family and friends and engaged them in hunting with me.

Clearly the pressure has to be on industries across the world and Operation Clean Sweep is the result of action being taken by the plastics industry themselves, supported by The British Plastics Federation and Plastics Europe.

I probably need to photograph them with a tape measure so that their size is apparent. Here are some I collected recently, the green top in the second image being a Smartie top I found on the beach. Hopefully knowing that gives an impression of size. I appear to have collected a mix of nurdles and bio-beads as well as a little bit of twig. I wonder if a catchy song could be composed to inform people of different ages and kick start their individual hunting activity and encourage their support for industries who are actively taking positive action to stem the flows into our waterways and oceans. After all if we want to keep buying and using items with any plastic components and we want our sewage treated we need to get behind them

BBC. 2017. Plastic ‘nurdles’ found littering UK beaches. BBC News. 17 February 2017. Available at: accessed 23-06-2018

British Plastics Federation. Operation Clean Sweep. Available at: accessed 01-08-2018

Nurdle Free Oceans; reducing plastic pollution in our seas. Available at: accessed 01-08-2018

South West Water. Nurdles and bio-beads. Available at: accessed 01-08-2018

Sarah Newton Nurdles and Bio-beads with various plastics, 2018
Sarah Newton Nurdles and Bio-beads in a Smartie top, 2018

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