A search across the UK has found that nearly three quarters of beaches throughout the country are littered with tiny plastic pellets. The pellets, smaller than the size of a pea, are known as “nurdles”, and used as a raw material for plastic products by industry in the UK. A search of 279 shoreline locations from as far north as Shetland to Scilly in the south, found that 205 of these beaches contained the pellets.

The worst instance of the pellets taking over a beach was at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall. Here, 33 volunteers from the Widemouth Task Force of the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt found 127,500 pellets on a stretch of beach only 100 meters long.

While this was the most egregious find, thousands of pellets were found by volunteers in many locations, including Porth Neigwl in Wales, the dunes at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool in County Durham, and in the wake of a storm on the Isle of Wight.

The event was organized by Fidra, a Scottish environmental charity, in collaboration with Greenpeace, Fauna and Flora International, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. More than 600 volunteers took part in the hunt.

The nurdles, which are made from lightweight plastic, can make their way into the environment at a number of points during their manufacture, transport, and usage as a raw material. They often spill into rivers, oceans, or drains, where they are often washed out to sea. Billions of nurdles are thought to be lost in the UK annually. They account for one of the main sources of primary microplastics polluting the seas around Europe, sometimes causing damage to wildlife. Microplastics are small plastic objects that have not come from larger items as they are broken up. According to experts, these microplastics absorb pollution from their environment and then transfer these toxins to animals such as birds and fish that sometimes eat them.

The UK government will utilize the results of the nurdle hunt to look at new ways to address these problems with microplastics.

Madeleine Berg, who is a projects officer at Fidra, said she was pleased with the level of participation in the hunt, especially amid stormy winter weather.

According to Berg:

“The information we’ve gathered will be vital to show the government that pellets are found on beaches all around the UK and, importantly, that so many people care about the issue. Simple precautionary measures can help spillages and ensure nurdles do not end up in our environment. We are asking the government to ensure best practice is in place along the full plastic supply chain, and any further nurdle pollution is stopped.”

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