A recent article from The Guardian discussed a toxic waste spill from an X-Press Pearl container ship that sank in the Indian Ocean in May. The 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil onboard was expected to be the largest source of pollution, but it was actually the 87 containers containing 1,680 tonnes of nurdles that spilled from the flaming wreckage. What are nurdles you ask? They are lentil-sized pellets, aka “pre-production plastic pellets.” that are the building blocks for all plastic products, including packaging. According to the UN, it is the largest plastic spill in history.
The greatest impact of the spill is on sea animals who mistake the tiny pellets as food. Nurdles have been found in dead dolphins and in the mouths of fish. To make matters worse, nurdles fragment into nanoparticles with more complex hazards in the environment. They also attract chemical toxins on their surface that spread with the ocean’s currents. The spill has caused unmeasurable damage to marine life, which is the main source of protein for 40% of Sri Lanka’s population.