Nurdles
Photo Credit: Supplied by Litter4Tokens

Litter4Tokens is urging the South African government to put actions in place to help address the rising amount of nurdles being found on local coastlines.

 

South Africa (13 September 2023) – Concerns have reached a critical point as the KZN North Coast beaches, including Sheffield and Ballito, face a sudden and disturbing surge in the presence of nurdles—tiny plastic pellets used in the manufacturing of plastic products. This alarming escalation poses an imminent threat to the health of marine ecosystems, human well-being, and the delicate balance of our environment.

Nurdles, akin to lentil-sized plastic particles, consisting of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and polyvinyl chloride, among other materials. These minuscule pollutants are shipped globally, packaged in 25kg bags on pallet bases, and destined for factories where they are melted down to craft plastic products.

Once released into the environment, these microplastics wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and human health, infiltrating the food chain, and causing ulceration, starvation, and mortality. Most distressingly, nurdles have been discovered to traverse ocean currents alongside vulnerable marine species such as turtles, posing a grave danger to their survival.

It remains uncertain whether these nurdles are remnants from the container ship spills of 2017 and 2020 or a novel form of plastic pellet pollution that imperils the food chain, wildlife, and human health.

Clare Swithenbank-Bowman, the visionary founder of non-profit organizations Litter4Tokens in South Africa and Trash4Tokens in the USA, has sounded the alarm for immediate governmental intervention and a sweeping overhaul of regulations about nurdle transportation.

Swithenbank-Bowman highlights a critical oversight: nurdles are not currently classified as hazardous materials under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code. This legal oversight has dire consequences, as nurdles are often stored above deck on ships, leaving them vulnerable to accidental spills during transit. Once spilt, they are at the mercy of ocean currents, rendering containment efforts futile.

A devastating case in point occurred in 2017 when two containers from the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) tumbled overboard during a freak storm, unleashing a staggering 2.2 billion nurdles into Durban Harbour. Only 72% of that spill has been remedied to date.

In August 2020, another catastrophe unfolded off Plettenberg Bay, disgorging an additional 174.5 metric tons of nurdles. To exacerbate matters, illegal dumping by manufacturers upstream in rivers introduced yet more nurdles onto eThekwini’s beaches, with a mere 12.6% of these pollutants recovered thus far.

In response to this crisis, Litter4Tokens hosted a critical nurdle clean-up competition during the recent Ballito Pro, where dedicated volunteers removed over 62kg of nurdles from our beloved coastlines. This monumental effort underscores the escalating severity of the problem, as the amount collected far surpassed the 2.6kg retrieved in 2022. This increase is more likely because of heightened awareness around what nurdles are, with Litter4Tokens launching the National Nurdle Clean-up Competition in 2021 whereby competitors collecting the most nurdles in clean-up drums win a prize.

Swithenbank-Bowman underscores the urgency of the situation and emphasizes the pivotal role of beach clean-ups. Her non-profit organisation, Litter4Tokens, has passionately presented its case to the International Maritime Organization as well as ACOEL, presented papers to the INC Secretariat, 1, 2, 3, IMO and United Nations campaigning vigorously for the reclassification of nurdles under the hazardous IMDG code with immediate effect. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment must play a more active role in addressing this looming catastrophe.

“This problem is astronomical, and we need help. It’s affecting our fisheries, our marine life, and our health. It’s unacceptable to bear witness to plastic-covered beaches. I firmly believe that prevention is superior to cure, and this level of nurdle pollution is entirely preventable,” declares Swithenbank-Bowman.

To date, Litter4Tokens has heroically diverted over 996,000 bags (1,097 tons) of litter from reaching the oceans, while also providing sustenance to more than 179,000 individuals in remote communities across South Africa and Mexico. The reach of Litter4Tokens extends to the United States through its sister foundation, Trash4Tokens.org, established in 2022. This dynamic non-profit organisation has educated and inspired over 32,000 individuals across South Africa, Mexico, and the USA.

Litter4Tokens and Clare Swithenbank-Bowman have earned accolades for their tireless efforts, including the 2023 PETCO Best Recycling Community Award in South Africa and the 2021 SEED Low Carbon Award. Swithenbank-Bowman further championed the cause on the global stage, presenting to the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations in May 2023, advocating for the reclassification of nurdles as hazardous materials within the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.

Litter4Tokens is appealing for assistance in funding prizes for its ongoing National Nurdle Clean-up Competition as well as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Through Litter4Tokens, organisations are provided with valuable data to meet their Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) targets.

“Ocean plastic is much more expensive to address than ocean-bound plastic, so if we can get sufficient funding for prevention campaigns, we won’t be chasing our tails on this issue forever,” says Swithenbank-Bowman.

“Clean-ups are important, but preventing the litter from reaching oceans will make an even bigger difference, but to achieve this, we need financial assistance.”

For further information about Litter4Tokens, please visit www.litter4tokens.co.za, and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram @litter4tokens. To engage with Clare Swithenbank-Bowman, the Founder of Litter4Tokens, kindly reach out to clare@litter4tokens.co.za


Sources: Supplied
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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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