Nurdles: Tiny plastics causing a big problem

What are nurdles? 

Nurdles are plastic pellets used for manufacturing plastic products. They are the raw, pre-production form of plastic and can be made into almost anything, from plastic bottles to wheelie bins. Most new plastic products are made from pellet source material. 

Made in New Zealand?

Generally plastic products that are made in New Zealand are made with source plastic from overseas. While it is great to have products manufactured in New Zealand, there is a risk of these pellets escaping the process and making their way into the environment.


Generally these pieces of plastic are called pellets in the manufacturing process and nurdles once they have entered the environment.

Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm (0.20 in) in length. So nurdles are by definition a microplastic, because they are less than 5mm in size. 

Because they enter the oceans already in microplastic form, they are known as a ‘primary microplastic’. ‘Secondary microplastics’ are formed when larger plastic items break up once at sea.

Microbeads are manufactured solid plastic particles of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension. They are made for use in products such as cosmetics as an exfoliator. They are a type of primary microplastic but are not technically nurdles (which are pre production plastic). 

Impact on the environment

Like many plastics, there are numerous negative ways that nurdles impact the environment. 

  • They get eaten by wildlife - due to their small size and often transparent colour, they can be mistaken for fish eggs and get eaten by animals such as seabirds and fish. When animals eat plastics they feel full but don't get any nutrients and eventually starve. 
  • Plastic can release toxic chemicals as it degrades, this can have a harmful impact on the environment over time. 
  • Nurdles on beaches can effect the ecosystem by changing the make up of the sand, impacting temperature and nesting animals. 

How do they get into the ocean? 

Unfortunately nurdles have been known to enter the environment through spills! This is commonly from shipping container accidents. There is also anecdotal evidence of them escaping plastic manufacturing facilities through lack of care and systems by producers. 

What can you do? 

  • Be sure to use plastic products as much as you can before discarding. 
  • Try to reduce your plastic use where you can. Only 9% of recyclable plastic is recaptured and used again and so switching to reusables is an effective way to avoid plastic production and disposal issues. 
  • Be aware of the issue and take part in supporting change where you can. This is a massive problem and will require more than just individual actions. Governments need to make strict rules and regulations around the processes of using plastic pellets. You can check out The Great Nurdle Hunt and Nurdle Patrol to find out more about this. 


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