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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Nurdle Beach (for the Week of May 24, 2009)

May 24, 2009

Q. Dear Twig: So what about nurdles?


A. So this: So dumped, lost, littered and accidentally spilled nurdles — plastic pellets used to make plastic things (doll heads, P-51 models, the keyboard I'm clacking this on, etc.) — "are distributed widely in the ocean and are now found on beaches all over the world." So say Japanese scientists in a scientific journal called the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Look for them if you go with your mom or dad to the beach this summer.

Q. Look for Japanese scientists?

A. No, nurdles. But wait a minute, sure, why not? Look for Japanese scientists too. In fact, any scientists. You can learn a lot from a scientist.

Q. Such as?

A. Such as — to get back to what we were talking about — this: "Floating plastic litter is one of the most widespread and abundant marine pollutants." So says a South African scientist, also in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. "It is eaten by a wide range of marine organisms, including seabirds, marine mammals, turtles and fish."

Q. Mmm, nurdley.

A. Next: Blech, nurdley.


P.S. "Floating plastic litter" means nurdles plus plastic products, pieces of plastic products, etc.



"Floating plastic litter" also means pieces of pieces of plastic products, pieces of pieces of pieces of plastic products, and, well, you get the idea.

Plastic doesn't biodegrade. It photodegrades. Sunlight breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Or it gets busted up into smaller pieces, even into powder, by (in this case) waves, sand and rocks.

A North Carolina scientist named Anthony Andrady says this in a story in a magazine called Orion: "Except for a small amount that's been incinerated, every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains. It's somewhere in the environment."


About This:

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at

Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) ( and with Ohio State University Extension ( OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691;; (330) 263-3776.

Shameless sales pitch: Buy (or not) Twig's books at (enter "twig walkingstick" in the search box), including his latest, Beware the Flying Steamer Duck! Birds and What They Doo, and his previousest, Hairy Blenny and the Monkeyface Prickleback: Freshwater Life and a Bit 'o Salt — the latter the winner, believe it or not, of a 2008 gold award for writing and the 2008 outstanding professional skill award for writing from the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences, yeah, we know, go figure.


Kurt Knebusch