Millions of waste plastic “nurdles” from UK sewage plants on the east coast are polluting the North Sea and reaching the Dutch coast, a new report has warned.
Sewage plants in Britain use black “bio beads”, also known as nurdles, to filter water, but spillages and heavy rainfall can wash them into watercourses where they are swept out to sea.
The research, by the marine conservation group Plastic Soup Foundation, discovered the plastic waste is likely to come from sewage treatment plants in Ipswich, Hull and Grimsby.
Once in the sea, storms, winds, and tidal currents drive the UK’s nurdles towards the shores of the Westerschelde in the southwestern Netherlands.
With millions of plastic nurdles entering the oceans, the report warned the plastic production sector is failing to put in place adequate preventative measures to stop spillages.
Oskar de Roos, plastics expert at WWF Netherlands, said: “Plastic pollution is taking on unprecedented proportions. The current government plastic policy, based on voluntary action, is inadequate.
“The industry’s transition to a circular economy is taking place far too slowly. The pollution caused by nurdles is a direct consequence.”
Nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets and can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and other plastics and are hugely damaging to ecosystems, wildlife, and humans.
As part of the report, researchers reconstructed an event from March 2019 where thousands of black nurdles were found to have washed up on the beaches of Zuid-Holland.
Using data the researchers were able to track the nurdles back to the estuary of Orwell and Stour.
The report also found at least 1 million nurdles present in the estuary.
The findings come days after the United Nations Environment Assembly agreed to create an international treaty on plastic pollution, which will introduce legally-binding rules for plastic production and disposal designed to significantly reduce the amount of plastic pollution going into the environment from 2024.
Campaigners have long warned that both industry and governments around the world are failing to address the issue of plastic waste.
As a result of the report’s findings, Plastic Soup Foundation has joined ClientEarth and 12 other NGOs in its legal proceedings against the permit granted to UK petrochemicals company Ineos to build a plastic plant in Antwerp.
Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This is one more reason to say no to the plans of chemical giant Ineos to build a new ethane cracker in the port of Antwerp in order to produce even more plastic.
“Now that it is clear how heavily the Westerschelde is polluted with plastic granules, action must be taken to stop these leaks at the source immediately.”