Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Whole Lot of Nurdles Going On (for the Week of May 17, 2009)

May 17, 2009

Q. Dear Twig: Why are we talking about nurdles?

A. Well, sometimes we spill them.

Q. And?

A. Well, there's a lot of them. Factories make something like 250 billion pounds of nurdles a year.

(Remember, nurdles are plastic pellets. They're melted, molded and made into plastic stuff.)

Since a single pound of nurdles has around 20,000 nurdles in it, 20,000 times 250 billion nurdles a year equals, if my math is right, 5,000,000,000,000,000 nurdles a year.

Q. Five quadrillion.

A. What?

Q. Five quadrillion. That's how many nurdles that is.

A. Which ... that's a lot of nurdles. Next: So what?

Twig

P.S. We've made more than 1 billion tons of plastic in the past 50 years. Most of it's still around.

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Notes:

Most of the plastic we've made is still around because it doesn't biodegrade. It photodegrades — gets broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces — but still stays plastic. Just tinier and tinier bits of it.

Sources included The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007); "Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment" by a team of Japanese scientists in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, 2001; and "Polymers are Forever," an excerpt from The World Without Us in Orion magazine, May/June 2007. Weisman nurdles the number even higher at 5.2 quadrillion.

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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 http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.

Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) and with Ohio State University Extension (http://extension.osu.edu). 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; knebusch.1@osu.edu; (330) 263-3776.

Buy (or not) Twig's books at http://estore.osu-extension.org/ (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.

Author(s): 
Kurt Knebusch
Source(s):