The Great Global Nurdle Hunt 2023

October 1 , 8:00 am October 31 , 5:00 pm EDT

This October, take part and join thousands of volunteers across the world gathering evidence, raising awareness and calling for an end to nurdle (plastic pellet) pollution! Anyone can take part, whether you are an individual or an organization. 

You can make an impact by:

  • Taking part in the Great Global Nurdle Hunt!
  • Sharing your nurdle hunt on social media to help raise awareness 
  • Asking local organizations to visit our information hub to work together on solutions
  • Using the results from the Great Global Nurdle Hunt to call on decision makers to address nurdle pollution 

If you are new to nurdle hunting, find out how to hurdle hunt here. You can download participant packs that are full of information, resources, nurdle hunting tips, social media resources and more to help you to take part and organize your own hunts! 

September 20 , 9:30 am 10:30 pm UK/London

This year’s nurdle hunt is all about making an impact, whether you work for an NGO, you are an educator, a keen volunteer or even if you work in a completely different field unrelated to the environment the nurdle hunt is for you. This webinar will teach you all about nurdles/plastic pellets, the history of nurdle hunting and how to take part.

Today, California Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) introduced landmark legislation aimed at preventing the discharge of plastic pellets into the natural environment during plastics production, transportation, and manufacturing: the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act.

Lowenthal, a longtime champion of protecting people from plastics, was involved in a 2020 effort with his Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 co-author Tom Udall (former U.S. Senator, D-New Mexico), in proposing an earlier version of the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act in 2020. 

What are Nurdles?

Plastic pellets, also commonly known as “nurdles,” are tiny round pieces of plastic, each about the size of a lentil. Every year, more than 400 million metric tons of plastic pellets are melted down and molded into the plastic items with which we are familiar. Plastic pellets easily escape the plastics production chain as they are small and lightweight. Billions and billions of these pellets end up in the natural environment every year globally, collecting on land, frequently finding their way to waterways through storm drains, sewers, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

In nature, these pellets continue to break up into microplastics which are found ubiquitously in air, soil, fresh waters, oceans, inside animals and plants, and in human bodies. Plastic pellets drive environmental injustice as they are disproportionately found in the BIPOC, rural, and low-income communities where plastics are overwhelmingly produced. The plastics industry ships its nurdles far and wide, often at sea, and huge nurdle spills are common as ships lose cargo in rough weather and sometimes sink.

The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act

While the U.S. is a major producer of plastic pollution, it currently has no legislation in place that addresses this major source of plastic pollution into the natural environment, nor do states have meaningful regulation to stop the plastic industry’s discharge of these pellets. The only program that exists nationally to address this serious problem is run by the plastic and petrochemical industries and is completely voluntary—and ineffective.

The Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to craft rules banning discharge of plastic pellets into waterways, storm drains, or sewers from facilities that “…make, use, package, or transport plastic pellets or other pre-production plastic materials” within 60 days.

Recent scientific studies show that microplastics are now found everywhere we look—in the soil, in the rainwater, in the food chain, and even inside our own bodies. This has to stop. We are killing ourselves and our planet. For too long, the plastics industry has been allowed to police itself when it comes to ensuring their pellets don’t end up in the environment. The industry has failed abysmally, and with that failure created an environmental problem of crisis levels. It is time for the plastics industry to step up and cover the costs of ensuring their products remain in their facilities and do not end up in our environment.”

California Congressman Alan Lowenthal

Following engagement with Plastic Pollution Coalition member As You Sow, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. has agreed to start reporting on spills of pre-production plastic pellets, or nurdles, manufactured in polymer production plants, which are believed to be a significant source of ocean plastic pollution. This follows a similar agreement reached last month between As You Sow and ExxonMobil.

When the company did not respond last fall to a request to engage, As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66, which each own half of Chevron Phillips Chemical, calling for pellet spill reporting. Both companies petitioned the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to allow them to omit the proposal; the SEC ruled that the companies could not omit the proposals.

Chevron Phillips Chemical is a top plastics producer with 33 production facilities in five countries. The company agreed to report data it submits to state regulatory agencies regarding the amount of pellets lost in the environment due to accidental releases from its plants, the amount of material recovered within its resin-handling facilities that is recycled, substantive information on its best management practices, plastic pellet production capacity, and information on how it engages its supply chain to share best practices and help reduce and eliminate pellet losses elsewhere. It also said it will employ third-party auditing to verify its reporting.

“We are pleased to see Chevron Phillips follow Exxon Mobil and agree to public reporting on plastic pellet spills and management,” Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow, said. “Such basic transparency is essential to enable policy makers and other stakeholders to assess the scope of this growing problem.” As You Sow agreed to withdraw its shareholder proposals with Chevron and Phillips 66 in recognition of the agreement.

Most plastic products originate from plastic pellets. Due to spills and poor handling procedures, billions of pellets are swept into waterways during production or transport annually, and are increasingly found on beaches and shorelines, adding to harmful levels of plastic pollution in the environment. Plastic pellets are estimated to be the second largest direct source of microplastic pollution to the ocean by weight.

When in the environment, plastics break up into smaller and smaller pieces that animals mistake for food; plastic pollution impacts 260 species, causing fatalities from ingestion, entanglement, suffocation, and drowning. Pellets are similar in size and shape to fish eggs and are often mistaken by marine animals for food.

Operation Clean Sweep is a chemical industry program that says it promotes best practices for pellet management and containment to members to reduce pellet loss, but the initiative provides no public reporting. After lack of responsiveness from companies last fall, As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil, and Phillips 66, which own large petrochemical operations, asking for annual reporting on spills and measures taken to prevent and clean up spills.

For more information on As You Sow’s work on plastic pellet pollution, click here.

As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. Click here to see As You Sow’s shareholder resolution tracker.

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