Plastic panda eye mask, filled with nurdles (plastic pellets)

Protect Yourself From Nurdles

diet home detox plastic Feb 27, 2024

by Sophia Ruan Gushée


Yesterday, I was interviewed by News10 ABC about a recent train derailment that contaminated the Hoosic River in upstate NY with plastic pollution, spilling a train of nurdles into the river... If only that was the first and only accidental release of nurdles! Each year, 445,970 tonnes of nurdles enter the environment worldwide, according to the Great Nurdle Hunt.

This article shares what you should know about nurdles, their environmental impact on marine life (i.e., your seafood) and public health, and tips to protect you, your loved ones, and our ecosystems.

What are nurdles?

About the size of a lentil bean, nurdles are plastic pellets that are used to manufacture plastic products. It's estimated that the world uses billions of nurdles each year. This releases thousands of tonnes into the environment, according to the Great Nurdle Hunt, a project by Fidra, an environmental charity based in East Lothian, Scotland.

Pamela Lein, a professor at the University of California, Davis, estimates that consumer plastic products use approximately 335 million tonnes of nurdles each year, according to her article "Nurdles: Tiny building blocks of consumer plastics & a growing environmental health threat." 

Nurdles' environmental impact

Plastics can be created from recipes that involve more than 13,000 chemicals. Examples of the types of plastic formulas for nurdles include polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, or polyvinyl chloride. Too many chemicals used for plastics are hazardous. The May 2023 report titled "Chemicals in Plastics - A Technical Report" describes ten groups of chemicals that have been "identified as being of major concern due to their high toxicity and potential to migrate or be released from plastics." Chemical categories used to make plastics include flame retardants, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, or Forever Chemicals), phthalates, bisphenols, certain metals and metalloids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and many non-intentionally added substances (NIAS).

Plastics last forever

Since plastics can take up to 500 years to biodegrade, they break down into tinier pieces over their lifetime. During their lives, some can release, absorb, and concentrate chemicals. Some can also attract heavy metals, viruses, and bacteria as they travel through environments.

This dynamic toxicity complicates studying their ecological harm.

Plastics hookup, breakup, attract and release toxicity, and continue that cycle

Throughout its life, plastic pollutes. Plastics of all sizes leave a significant environmental impact and ecological harm during their manufacturing, transport, use, disposal, and beyond.

Moreover, as plastic and its chemicals break down, they pose evolving threats. Chemicals can combine with others to create unintentional toxic byproducts with unintentional toxic effects, as I describe in much more detail in A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide To Reducing Our Toxic Exposures

Plastic can also contain heavy metals, which pose a risk to the marine life and humans that ingest or inhale them.

Poison pills and rafts

From this absorption and concentration of toxicity over its life, microplastics and nanoplastics have earned the name "poison pill" because of their potential effects from their load of toxicity when ingested.

Furthermore, plastic can act as a raft for viruses and bacteria that cling onto the surface area of plastic, which makes the ingestion of plastic even more dangerous.

Size matters

While the size of plastic varies its potential effects, our current technology has helped scientists to understand that nano-sized plastic can penetrate our membranes, including our blood-brain barrier, which protects our brain from toxic compounds. One important path of further study is whether nanoplastics increase the risk of developing Parkinson's Disease.

Even at the common nurdle size of 5 millimeters, marine life and birds often mistake nurdles for food, like fish eggs. Scientists have learned that fish, turtles, seabirds, and a variety of marine life are harmed by a stomach full of plastic pellets, according to Ana Mexia's article "What are Nurdles – Why You Need to Worry About Them" at Ocean Blue Project.

Accidents with nurdles

Too often, the transportation—via trains, ships, or others—of nurdles can release countless nurdles into the environment. A July 2021 U.N. report describes "the spillage of 87 containers of nurdles as the most significant environmental health threat." These nurdles then get enveloped and distributed globally through waves, rivers, evaporation, wind, rain, and in various life forms.

Tips to protect yourself from nurdles

While our plastic pollution is overwhelming, don't let it keep you from helping! Empower yourself and our future with the tips below. 

  1. Use reusable glass or stainless steel food and beverage containers to reduce your use of plastic. This will protect your body from ingesting microplastics and nanoplastics as well as reduce plastic pollution. For a nontoxic Ruan Living water bottle, click here: Stainless Steel Water Bottle.
  2. Bring a reusable tote bag whenever possible. This will help reduce the demand, and therefor future manufacturing, for bags that use plastic.
  3. Avoid microbeads (small plastic particles) in personal care products. Read product claims carefully for exfoliating beads in things like toothpaste, face wash, and body wash.
  4. Use the best water filtration system that is comfortable for your budget. Even a water filter pitcher will protect your body from contaminants. The most comprehensive water filtration involves reverse osmosis. To learn which water filtration products I use for my family, check out Water Detox at the D-Tox Academy. Click here for D-Tox Academy's Pillar 2 Home Detox 101: Water Detox. Also, download Ruan Living's Shopping Guides to see which filters I use. We also recommend Ruan Living's stainless steel water bottle, which will help you avoid toxic chemicals often leached from plastic water bottles.
  5. Urge elected officials to enact policies that protect our ecosystems from the toxic contaminants of plastic pollution. Oceana makes it easy with an online form.
  6. Unburden your body burden. Learn simple ways to avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields. Each year, our environment and toxic exposures escalate dramatically. Too many can block, tackle, and hijack biological processes. If you'd like guidance, then 40-Day Home Detox provides a deep dive and D-Tox Academy provides a low-commitment detox that's guided by a monthly exploration of your universe within. If you're not already a subscriber though, definitely register for our email newsletter to stay updated on Ruan Living's latest offerings.

The best plastic waste management is pollution prevention!

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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