Not so fantastic microplastic

Microplastics on St Bees beach

On a visit to St Bees Beach after the recent storms we were shocked by the amount of plastic we found.  There was the usual waste of rope, bags, fishing line, food wrappers, bottles, cotton bud sticks, balloon strings.  But it was the micro plastics which were really evident on this occasion.

This is possibly because it was a neap tide, meaning that even though it was had been stormy, the tide wasn’t coming as far up the beach as it sometimes does.  This meant that the smallest of marine debris, which is usually washed up to the back of the beach and lost in amongst the shingle, was instead being left on the sand for all to see.

You might be asking what are micro plastics?  The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration defines microplastics as less than 5mm in diameter.  However, this can include primary microplastics (which are much smaller and usually come from plastic used in exfoliating face and body products or industrial processes) and secondary microplastics (which are made when larger plastic products break down into smaller pieces).  Micro plastics are known to harm marine life, which mistake them for food, and can be consumed by humans too via seafood, tap water and other food.

Most of the microplastics we found were nurdles.  Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. Countless billion are used each year to make nearly all our plastic products but many end up washing up on our shores.  Spills and mishandling by industry can mean nurdles end up at sea.  Unlike large pieces of plastic marine litter, nurdles are so small that they go largely unnoticed.

A handful of plastic nurdles

Nurdles found at St Bees beach

We’d like to know more about how bad this problem is so we’ll be buying some sieves, getting on our hands and knees and doing a Nurdle Hunt at St Bees around the next neap tide.  Details are still being finalised but we will be asking for volunteers to come and help soon.

In the meantime how can you help reduce this problem?  You can avoid microplastics by:

  • ensuring any products you buy don’t contain them (microplastics are banned in the UK but are still used in other countries)
  • recycle plastic products where possible
  • recycling anything you do need to throw away
  • not flushing anything other than the three P’s (pee, poo and paper) down the toilet
  • joining a beach clean and help clean up our beaches – we have regular beach cleans at Whitehaven and St Bees, see our events page for all the info you need

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