How Nurdles are Killing Marine Wildlife

Plastic is now an ingredient in your dinner. It is made of toxic chemicals which do not biodegrade even when they are broken into single molecules. Why would you put it in food?


When plastic manufacturing plants make virgin plastic, they form “nurdles”: Small plastic pellets about the size of lentils. They are used in molds to form the plastic products we use, from wrappers on packaged foods to toys.

More than 250 quadrillion will be made this year: More than 60 billion tons of United States nurdles. One pound of plastic equals 22,000 nurdles.

How do they get away?

Since nurdles are so small, they frequently slip through cracks in doors of trucks which haul them and the actual molds which make them into usable products.

Plastics factories have fences around which nurdles gather by the thousands like snow drifts, wasted product influencing both price and the environment.

Harbors and storm drains have millions swirling in the water. When loaded into containers for shipping, nurdles fly through the air like dust devils and settle on the surface of the water.

Nurdles represent ten per cent of all plastic debris in the oceans. The United Nations (UN) states 13,000 nurdles are floating in every square mile of the ocean.

Can nurdles be harmful?

Absolutely. Nurdles absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs), like DDT and PCBs, because plastic naturally absorbs oils. Chemicals which are no longer in widespread use are still available (persistent) in the environment.

When nurdles reach water, freshwater streams or the ocean, they absorb chemicals from the water.

Absorbing poison from the water sounds like a good thing, but it is not. Now, the nurdle is a concentrated poison pellet.

What are they hurting?


Birds think nurdles look like food. Birds eat dirt and sand to help them digest food. Nurdles mix with soil and sand, where they appear to be large grains or seeds.

Since plastic is indigestable, the pellets linger in the bird’s digestive tract. Nurdles do not function in the way sand does in a bird’s gullet, effectively keeping the bird from digesting its food.

As they remain in the gullet, any poison absorbed by the nurdles is passed to the bird. Nurdles are an equal-opportunity killer: Starvation or poisoning.


Small fish face bigger danger from nurdles than only poison. Nurdles look like fish eggs, a primary food source.

Because the pellets do not break down in the stomach, small fish develop digestive blockages from which they can starve or die of constipation. Tiny species, like shrimp, can die from ingesting a single nurdle.

Larger fish fare no better with nurdles. When they eat smaller fish who have eaten nurdles, they face the poison leached into the meat and the indigestable nurdle itself. Accumulated nurdles block big digestive tracts as well.

Water supply.

Waste water treatment plants and sewerage systems have no viable method to remove nurdles from water.

Since nurdles travel through the process unscathed, they, in treated water, are then released “into the wild”.

Greenpeace has found concentrations of nurdles in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Pacific Ocean (including the gyre and off the Phillippine coast) and Atlantic Ocean.

Orange County, California discovered in 2001, 98% of their beach debris was nurdles.


Small animals ingest nurdles, but humans would not fill a cereal bowl with them. Humans would enjoy a king salmon steak. Why not have a healthy tuna salad?

Large fish which populate human food stores are feeding on the small fish who do not know the difference between a man-made nurdle and a fish egg.

How do we keep from killing the marine wildlife?


California passed legislation requiring manufacturers, handlers and transporters to contain nurdles. The Ocean Protection Council specifically calls for zero discharge of nurdles into the environment.

Reduced consumption.

Choose to use less plastic. Humans throw away 185 pounds of plastic per year. Curb consumption by any of these methods:

1. Use fabric shopping bags.

2. Refill plastic bottles of fabric softener and water.

3. Recycle all HDPE and PET plastic bottles (milk, soda, water and shampoo bottles).

4. Buy recycled plastic toys.

5. Use glass. Glass is 100% recyclable.

Correct disposal.

Do not pass by a discarded piece of plastic, regardless of location. All plastics which are not left in the environment can be properly disposed.

Keeping nurdles out of the environment is the only way to protect marine wildlife we use as food.