Essay, Pages 5 (1234 words)
As man’s dependence on plastic and plastic products increases, the disposal of plastic waste has become an environmental nightmare. This cheap, widely available resource has been mass produced since its creation for commercial use in 1907. Enormous effort has gone into researching the various uses of plastic but hardly any effort has gone into the elimination of it after use. Plastic is not biodegradable and is only broken down over hundreds of years. Thus, it has now accumulated to such an extent that it is destroying ecosystems and the creatures living in them.
and has allowed the mass production of many other products over the years as well. Plastic waste its the major contributor for most of the world’s land pollution.
The recent spillage of tons of nurdles at Durban last year is just one of countless occurrences which devastate the world. However, in this situation it is not plastic products that has been dumped into the ocean, it’s the nurdles, so is this currently a threat to the local environment? In this research project this topic will be discussed fully as it is relevant to the KwaZulu Natal coastal communities.
A quadrant method will be done to estimate the nurdle population in a small area. This will give a small picture of how much nurdles are currently affecting our coast and aid in determining its threat in the future.
To determine weather nurdles are currently a threat to the local coastal environment of Kwa Zulu Natal.
Review of literature
What are nurdles?
Nurdles are small 4mm by 2mm plastic pellets made of synesthetic material which have a high mouldability (Konig, 2019).
As seen in (McMahon, 2019) nurdles are melted and moulded into their specific plastic products. Millions of nurdles are produced yearly to make plastic products. They are transported via shipping containers and tanker trucks.
If we look at the composition of nurdles we can see that it is made up of long carbon chains. These contain long complex thermosetting polymers, which means that they are chains of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen molecules that are held together be strong dipole-dipole forces. This gives plastic its strength, flexibility and durability.
Due to their size these methods of transportation are the easiest however their size also means that while transporting, nurdles are always spilt
- As seen in (User, 2019).
- Nurdles being spilled on the road transportation (Indianapolis and Indianapolis University, 2019)
- Nurdles being spilt in the ocean transportation (Indianapolis and Indianapolis University, 2019)
The nurdles then float out to sea or land up in beaches all over the world. This is also the reason for nurdles being one of the largest attributors to marine debris.
KZN’s previous struggle with plastic.
In the past, before the nurdle incident, KZN already had a huge plastic pollution problem. As per (source G), the SST (Sustainable Seas Trust) said that if the situation is not fixed soon the country’s pollution levels would be as bad as South East Asia, which is considered be the most polluted on the planet. The also estimated around 150 million tons of plastic to be in the ocean and that number grows as freak accidents like the nurdle incident occur more frequently
As seen in (source D), 1.144 million tons of plastic was discarded and of that 41.8% was recycled. This means that over 660 thousand tons of plastic waste re-entered the waste stream. Despite this being a 5,9% increase from previous years, these stats from 2016 were the most predominant since. This shows us that we are not looking after our environment currently and that our recycling system in south Africa is very poor. The sad thing is recycling, if managed properly can be an income for the country, create jobs and boost the economy however not enough effort is being put into it. The nurdle incident, tragic as it was, opened the eyes of many to how polluted south Africa, especially its waters, actually are.
How the nurdles got into the KZN coastline
On October 10th 2017 the MSC SUSANNA lost two containers holding approximately 49 tons of nurdles to the waters of Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN). This was due to a huge thunderstorm which washed the synthetic, “raw”, pre-moulded plastic pellets from as far north as Richards bay to as far south as the eastern cape (As seen in source A) (Nqayi, 2019) which is taken from the Department of Environmental Affairs, which is a credible source)
What effects do nurdles have on the environment and animals?
Danger to animals
o At first nurdles are not toxic or chemically harmful in any way (as seen in source C) its only after time passes on do nurdles become toxic. This is because they attract “concentrate background pollutants” like pesticides, sewerage, fertilizers or industrial chemicals. If toxic nurdles are consumed by and fish, bird or aquatic species then these animals will most likely become sick, die, return the toxic nurdles into the food chain.
o Due to their small size nurdles affect many different animas negatively. Filter feeders like many fish become choked by the nurdles as it blocks their gills. Due to their size and appearance many animals eat large amounts of nurdles and die either because they resemble fish eggs. (As seen in source B), HCl the acid found in stomachs, can’t break down the nurdles so the nurdles accumulate in the animal’s stomachs. They then starve because the nurdles bock the animals alimentary canals ( as seen in source C). This crates a cycle as the deceased animal will be eaten by scavengers or larger animals thus staying in the food chain as seen in (source B.)
o Nurdles never go away as seen in (source C). over time due to sunlight and oxygen the nurdles break down into smaller fragments but this only occurs after long periods of time. This causes huge problems for filter feeders. As previously discussed, nurdles absorb harmful chemicals in the water making them toxic. Thus, as they become smaller, they become more toxic and increase their surface area. Filter feeders are at an extremely high risk of consuming the toxic, broken down nurdles which would kill them.
Danger to environment
o KZN has a tropical climate. This means that many chemicals enter waterways due to the spraying of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on crops (source F). These chemicals them flow down the rivers and streams to the mouth where it reaches the ocean. (As seen in source B) nurdles attract chemicals and absorb them, making them toxic. Therefore because of the large concentration of chemicals in the water the nurdles attract and absorb the chemicals which allow the ideal conditions for algal blooms.
o Algal blooms are when algae rapidly reproduce due to favourable conditions and overpopulate the area. The reasons for algal blooms are increased nutrients, temperature and light the nurdles increase the nutrients in the water because they attract the chemicals from the fertilisers and pesticides.
o This is dangerous as algal blooms lower the oxygen levels in the water which means that many living creatures leave the area or die due. This is due to the lack of oxygen which is needed for cellular respiration which is needed for all living creatures to live. The lack of oxygen also means that the nurdles are broken down slower. This is because oxygen is a key component for nurdles to break down.