A SCOTTISH beach has become the UK hotspot for pollution by tiny pieces of plastic, that are harming marine life, despite attempts to stop the pollution.

Searches of 23 shorelines across Scotland in April found that all but three were littered with the lentil-sized pellets known as 'nurdles'. Last year two out of three were polluted with the plastic.

And the most nurdles found across the UK was on a small beach in North Queensferry, Scotland, where 450,000 nurdles, the equivalent of 833 plastic bottles, were collected in less than two hours.

The spot is just 12 miles from the Ineos Polymers plant where nurdles are produced. Ineos has previously pledged to ensure "zero pellet loss".


In Scotland nurdles were found as far west as the Isle of Barra, and as far north as Collieston, Aberdeenshire.

The Firth of Forth remains the spot with the highest concentration of the lentil-sized fragments, which measure less than a millimetre across, and are used as a raw material in the manufacturing industry to make new plastic products. But many of the pellets spill out of factories or cargo into the water.

High concentrations of the pellets, also known as 'mermaid tears' are also found in the F‏irth of Clyde.

Video: Health concern over plastic pollution on Scottish beaches

These pellets, are similar in size and shape to fish eggs, so they are often mistaken for food by fish and can be deadly to fish and marine mammals, who mistake them for food and eat them.

They are highly absorbent, so can suck in dangerous chemicals such as DDT insecticide, which can leach out into the fish and potentially pass along the food chain – all the way to the dinner plate, experts have warned Organised by Scottish environmental charity Fidra, the collection event saw volunteers gave 4545 minutes of their time to over 85 nurdle hunts across the UK with 93 per cent discovering the nurdles.


Alasdair Neilson from Fidra, said: "It is shocking to see how prevalent nurdles are across the UK coastline. While parts of industry have cleaned up their act, it is clear the status quo cannot solve this issue. For nurdle pollution to be eliminated, responsibility and transparency is needed right across the supply chain.”

Douglas Chapman MP for Dunfermline and West Fife who attended the North Queensferry hunt, added: "It was an incredible effort from the volunteers to collect 450,000 nurdles from the beach that day and it shows just how big this problem is to find so many at a single location.”

Fidra has been working with the UK plastics industry for six years to try to promote best practice to end further pellet pollution.

Manufacturers can sign up to Operation Clean Sweep, an industry initiative to ensure nurdles are handled more carefully, but it is a voluntary programme.

An Ineos spokesman said its 'Zero Pellet Loss' strategy had seen investment in equipment, training and awareness for employees as well as mitigation measures to deal with any spills.

He said: "We have pledged our support and signed up to 'Operation Clean Sweep', an international programme to reduce pellet loss.

"As a responsible operator we regularly review our operations to ensure continual improvements are being made.

"Our commitment to the highest standards of health, safety and environment underpins all of the work we do at Grangemouth."

Plastic pollution in sea could treble in a decade

UK factories use 7.3 million tons of plastic each year, most of it made up of tiny pellets between 3mm and 5mm wide and weighing about 20mg each. About 600 nurdles are used to make a small plastic water bottle.

Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium found in January, last year that seafood eaters are absorbing the plastic into their bloodstream with unknown effects on health.

Scientists say that 99 per cent of the microplastics pass through the human body - but the rest are taken up by body tissues.

It is believed Europeans currently consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic in their food each year. According to unpublished studies, fewer than 60 of these are likely to be absorbed - but they will accumulate in the body over time.

But there have been warnings that the amount of plastic absorbed from our food will increase as plastic pollution in the ocean gets worse.