What are “nurdles” doing to wildlife?

Nurdles are a small but potent form of plastic pollution, yet most people have never heard of them.

For wildlife, these deceptive snacks are easy to swallow but impossible to digest. They fill the bellies of marine animals and cause them to starve to death.

They’re called “nurdles” and they’re everywhere. What are they used for? These small plastic beads are the building blocks for virtually every plastic product in existence.

Here’s what you need to know about nurdles and their impact on wildlife:

What are plastic nurdles?

Nurdles are a type of microplastic. These tiny pellets, typically less than 5 millimeters in size, are the raw material that’s used to create familiar plastic products such as polystyrene foam cups, plastic water bottles and grocery bags.

But before they can be used to form larger plastic products, countless nurdles frequently are spilled, leaked or intentionally dumped directly into our waterways.

How is this blatant pollution possible? Today, there are often no penalties imposed on companies that dump nurdles into waterways.

Garrick Schmitt | TPIN
Nurdles are tiny pellets used as building blocks for plastic products.

How do nurdles impact wildlife?

Because they’re so small, nurdles are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other marine animals. How much of this stuff is floating around in our oceans? By some estimates, a staggering 230,000 metric tons of nurdles are added to the oceans every year.

Once digested, these plastic pieces remain in the stomachs of wildlife, leading to malnutrition and starvation. Nurdles also tend to accumulate other toxins, which are then introduced into the food chain once swallowed by wildlife.

Seabirds that mistake plastic nurdles for food can face malnutrition and starvation.

What can we do to protect the environment from nurdles?

Given that these plastic pellets are so tiny, they’re extremely difficult to clean up once spilled into the environment. Even if they’re dumped in a landfill, chances are they’ll drift away with the slightest breeze and end up mixing with the soil in our parks and the sand on our beaches.

We need to stop this pollution at its source. Here’s what Environmental Action supporters are doing to prevent them from getting into the environment in the first place:

  • Reducing the demand for nurdles by urging legislators to ban products such as single-use polystyrene and plastic bags.
  • Working to pass the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, which would “prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic into waterways from facilities and sources that make, use, package, or transport pellets.”
  • Urging U.S. senators to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which would reduce single-use plastics and hold producers accountable for their waste.

No wild animal should have to die because human beings spilled or dumped plastic nurdles into our oceans.

If Environmental Action supporters like you keep raising your voices, someday none will.

Find Out More