At our last beach clean in St Bees we were shocked by the amount of small plastic that we found washed up. The recent stormy weather and high tides has pushed all of this right up to the back of the beach. Mixed in amongst the usual debris of rope, bottles, caps, cotton bud sticks and unidentifiable plastic were hundreds of tiny nurdles. But what are nurdles I hear you cry?
Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. Billions of these tiny plastic pieces are used every year to manufacture almost all of our other plastic products. Many are washed down the drains due to mishandling during production processes or lost during spills so they end up in the marine environment and we end up finding them washed up on beaches or riverbanks.
Unlike larger items such as rope, bottles, wood, buckets and wellies, nurdles can often go unnoticed at beach cleans because they are so small. So, at our beach clean this week we will have jam jars and we’ll be collecting all of the nurdles we can find, counting them up and submitting our results as part of the Great Nurdle Hunt. We’ll be sure to let you know how we get on!
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.
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
If you’ve been inspired by watching Blue Planet II and are concerned about the plastic pollution problem that is currently affecting our oceans then there are lots of ways you can get involved to help our oceans. Why not make 2018 the year that you commit to helping tackle the marine litter crisis? We’ve listed a few easy ways you can get involved or make small changes in your daily life to help out without noticing!
Switch the stick – we’ve written before about finding lots of cotton bud sticks while we’re beach cleaning along the Colourful Coast. Plastic cotton buds are among the thousands of sanitary products flushed down toilets everyday instead of being put in the bin, and the plastic sticks end up on our beaches. Please remember to bin cotton buds – they don’t belong down the toilet. You can help even further by choosing cotton buds with cardboard sticks instead of plastic.
2 minute beach clean – simply spend 2 minutes picking up litter when you’re next on the beach. There’s no need for equipment and you can do it anywhere, any time, on your own or with others. Join the #2minutebeachclean family by tagging your photos on facebook, instagram or twitter and share photos of your efforts.
Join a beach clean – we organise beach cleans alongside a fantastic group of organisations (Surfers Against Sewage, the Marine Conservation Society and Cumbria Coastline Cleanup) along the Colourful Coast and many others take place further afield along the whole Cumbrian coast. All the equipment you need is provided, there’s often cake or biscuits and you get the chance to meet new people while feeling great about helping the environment! We’re finalising details of the beach cleans we’ll be running in 2018 so check back for more details soon.
For more ideas about how to get involved or make changes the check out the BBC’s article.
On Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 October we joined the Surfers Against Sewage team for the Autumn Beach Clean Series to collect litter and washed up rubbish at Whitehaven’s North Shore and St Bees Beach.
The weather was kind on both days and over 30 volunteers gave up their weekend afternoons to come along and join in. As always the amount of plastic pollution was astounding. We spent two hours at each beach and there were so many cotton bud sticks, strings from balloon releases, straws, single use plastic bottles and sanitary applicators that we gave up counting and just kept on collecting. In St Bees alone we collected and removed 22 bags of litter. Fast food packaging, wet wipes, cutlery and rope were also, unfortunately, in abundance high up on the tide line having been washed up during recent storms.
Much of this waste could be avoided with a little bit of though or planning. Some simple (and easy) tips are:
- Take a reusable cup to the coffee shop
- Recycle cans and bottles – don’t chuck them on the ground or in the bin
- Most importantly remember that only the three P’s should go down the toilet – pee, poo and paper!