Microplastics are plastics less than 5mm in diameter. Under this category, nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets transported via cargo ships which, upon arrival, are melted down to form any plastic product imaginable. Nurdles are spilt at all points in their production including through transportation on cargo ships which is how billions upon billions of nurdles are washed up onto South-West beaches. A percentage of nurdles are also bio-beads used in waste water treatment.
After graduating from the University of Plymouth, alumni have set up a business to clean South-West beaches of marine debris, specifically 'nurdles' with funding from the University's BETA Enterprise Programme.
Meet the team
- Josh Beech is the founder of Nurdle, and his passion for the environment goes back years. He studied BSc (Hons) Environmental Science at Plymouth.
- Hope Buck is a Director of Nurdle and ever since a young age she has been very in tune with the environment. She studied BSc (Hons) Conservation Biology at Plymouth.
What are nurdles?
What's the issue?
Nurdles are really hard to see, they are about the size of a lentil. Every day thousands of people walk on beaches and don't even notice them. So you can imagine how hard it is for other organisms to spot them as well.
Do not be mistaken by their benign nature and colourful allure. It is for this very reason that animals are mistaking nurdles for their prey. Birds and other organisms, pecking along the tide line, often pick them up by mistake – they can't decipher these from maggots or fish eggs. The cause of death is more often than not due to starvation – you can’t eat with a belly full of plastic!
Nurdles also attract heavy metals and persistent bio-accumulative and toxic substances (PBTs) which adsorb to the surfaces. When consumed by organisms, they bio-magnify and bio-accumulate up the food chain, until the top predators, the likes of tuna and whales, become very polluted, with plastics, metals, and PBTs.
Co-founder, Josh Beech, started Nurdle in his third year of university. Coming down to the beach between study he would see massive microplastic and nurdle pollution and thought something had to be done about it.
Nurdle's first ever trommel was made in Josh's university kitchen. It fell apart within the first two hours, but led to bigger things because since then a lot of people have wanted them.
"The general mission of Nurdle is to create a genuine difference to our oceans, coastlines and associated wildlife. We do that by creating trommels – a mechanical screening machine used to separate materials. We use trommels to sift the sand for microplastics and leave all the essential organic matter behind for the organisms and the strandline.
"Not every beach needs a trommel, but the beaches that do need them need more than one. We have got 20 trommels dotted about the world now, as far as California and Jersey, with more on order. This year we are creating a machine to be able to clear massive polluted beaches.
"One of the fundamental aims throughout the whole process of making these machines was to ensure the organic matter is returned to the beach, because while alternative beach unit methods do exist, they either are missing the microplastics because they're so small, or they take all of the essential organic matter off as well."
The team have had a permanent trommel based up at Watergate Bay in Newquay, Cornwall for some time now and the situation there has generally got a lot better. This only shows that other locations need to have trommels based permanently there.
Starting the business
In his third year at university, Josh applied for a start-up grant of £1,500 through the Beta Enterprise Programme, which has helped the company get to where it is today. The grant was used for designing the website, printing t-shirts and creating the first trommel.
"A little further down the line we sold five more trommels which helped to develop them even more. The first trommel was nowhere near as good as these five were, which have since been superseded by a newer version again. The trommels keep getting better and better each time we develop it."
Before establishing this business, Josh had no prior business skills. The Beta Enterprise taught him all the initial foundations of business that was needed and the company has just gone from strength to strength ever since. This has included taking out a patent for the trommel.
"This was something initially we did not really want to do and felt we didn't need to do. However, a lot of hard work, love and care has gone into this business and we didn't want to see that taken away by someone that was just doing it for monetary gain.
"We are completely not for profit, any money that we do make from the sales of our trommels go straight back into the business to develop new and better ways for helping our coastline."
How can I help?
"We see Nurdles as a tangible indicator of marine health. With the motto 'making marine plastic extinct' we aim to restore a beach to its natural state, free from the legacy of plastic.
"If you want to support our mission you can do so by joining us on a beach clean and help pick-up microplastics, buying a t-shirt or a trommel!"
Find Nurdle online and discover more about the ways in which you can further their cause.
International Marine Litter Research Unit
Marine litter is a global environmental problem with items of debris now contaminating habitats from the poles to the equator, from the sea surface to the deep sea.