Plastic nurdles among the pollution on Willows Beach from 2016. (Surfrider Canada Image)

Mysterious plastic pellets washing up on Vancouver Island traced back to Fraser River source

‘Nurdles’ lead UVic researcher, Surfrider call on province for enforcement

UVic librarian David Boudinot is not a marine scientist but it doesn’t take one to connect the dots that the plastic nurdle pellets washing up on Willows Beach can be traced back to the Fraser River and a potential source at Annacis Island.

Boudinot is a volunteer with Surfrider Canada and has helped out on dozens of beach clean ups since he joined them a few years ago. During those clean ups Boudinot learned about the nurdles. When he contacted one manufacturer he was told they floated here from a 2012 Hong Kong spill, which he doesn’t believe.

Curiosity about the pellets and how they got there led Boudinot to research the plastics industry alongside a colleague.

“I felt compelled to continue monitoring beaches in B.C. for spills because I want to see if the problem of plastic pellets in our environment gets better or worse over time,” Boudinot said.

There are several types of nurdles, which is a term for pre-consumer plastic polymer pellets made from high density PolyEthylene, low density PolyEthylene and Polypropylene. They are melted into plastic products such as bags, bottles, containers, packaging, straws, and other plastic items.

READ MORE: UVic librarian perplexed by plastic nurdles

He became more concerned when he found pellets were entering storm drains by manufacturing plants near the Fraser River and showing up at outfalls, and as far as Vancouver Island.

“The plastic pellets definitely seemed fresher on the Fraser than some of the old weathered ones we have found on Vancouver Island,” Boudinot said. “Then we started looking at the parking lots of plastic manufacturing facilities and it is obvious where these pellets are entering the Fraser River.”

On Friday Boudinot challenged the Ministry of Environment on harsher regulation and penalties for companies who create and ship the nurdles.

In a statement provided by Ministry of Environment spokesperson Tyler Hooper said: “The ministry would like to thank Surfrider for bringing this to our attention. The province is working to reduce plastics in the marine environment.”

Discharge of pollution to the environment is prohibited under the Environmental Management Act and the ministry said it will be looking into these concerns and determining appropriate next steps.

Witnesses to pollution such as the nurdles can call the 24-hour Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-7277 or online at https://forms.gov.bc.ca/environment/rapp/.

“Now that I understand how the spills are happening, I want to share what the problem is along with some easy solutions, like cleaning up spills when they happen, and requiring the use of storm drain covers like you would see at a construction site,” Boudinot said. “There is no reason a plastic pellet should be in a storm drain. And we cannot recycle our way out of this particular type of pollution.”

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