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Nurdles are often described as the industrial feedstock for the production of plastic products. These pellets are typically disc shaped and 3-5mm in diameter. Nurdles were first reported in the marine environment in the 1970s; a recent UK study however indicates a national yearly loss of 5-53 billion pellets.
Cigarette butts are considered to be the most commonly littered item worldwide. Unfortunately, research shows that only 72% of smokers don’t actually know that cigarette butts contain plastic, and 47% of Brits aren’t aware that cigarette butts, when flicked down the drain, will end up in the marine environment. As well as cigarette filters being comprised of plastic microfibers, they also contain thousands of chemical ingredients, including lead and arsenic. The leachate from just one cigarette butt, placed into just one litre of seawater, can create an entirely toxic environment for marine creatures.
Last year, a baby cow was found dead in its field alongside a popular coastal path in North Cornwall. Following the post-mortem examination, it was found that the poor calf had ingested used, full, plastic dog poo bags. This was the cause of death. After observing this tragedy, I walked a mile along this same coastal path to see how many littered dog poo bags I could find; 201 was a quantity I could never have predicted.
Every minute, of every day, in the UK alone, 750 plastic bottles are littered. Researchers have now identified microplastics in most bottled water brands; they have even now found microplastics in the beer that we drink…
Biobeads look almost identical to a typical ‘Nurdle’, except for having a characteristically rough and rugged surface. These pellets are used as filtering media at sewage treatment plants. In 2010, the waste water treatment plan beside the Truro River, Cornwall, spilt 5 billion of these plastic beads into the river. A thick, imbedded, black and bumpy line of biobeads now follows the river bank, through the fruitful mudflats, to the mouth of the river and into the ocean. Previous studies have found beads contaminated with toxic chemicals such as lead, bromine and cadmium.
‘Ghost gear’ is that which is fishing gear which has been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea. A recent study revealed that, of the top 20 most commonly found items of marine litter, ghost fishing gear posed the greatest threat to marine life. The entanglement risk of this material can lead to long, painful and slow deaths lasting months or even sometimes years. The image you see is of a ghost net we found last year; entangled amongst it was 10 female Catsharks, dead. Four of them were pregnant.
65% of 18-24 year olds admit to flushing wet wipes, sanitary products, cotton buds, cotton wool products or condoms down the toilet. This leads to blockages and, ultimately, spills into the marine environment. During a beach clean, I found over 300 plastic stemmed cotton bud sticks on just one beach in North Cornwall. This was 2 years after the 2017 movement from major retailers to remove all plastic stemmed cotton bud stick and switch to paper alternatives.
Beach Guardian have discovered a surplus of single use food packaging on their beach cleans, many with a past use-by date. One of my favourite finds was a Walkers crisp packet from 1997, the year I was born. The oldest crisp packet that I have found on a beach clean was from 1972, a McVities packet with a ‘Camera Offer’ on the back. This offer asked for a cheque for 65p to be posted to the given address. In return, the sender would receive a brand new camera, film and processing services for footage. From finding these packets, I decided to wear a dress made out of Walkers crisp packets to my graduation. Following this, Walkers pledged to make ‘100% of their packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025’ and introduced a nationwide recycling scheme.