Warrnambool, Australia — An Australian video producer wants to inspire the nation's beach dwellers to go nurdle hunting.
Colleen Hughson, who owns First Ladies Productions Pty. Ltd., lives in the seaside town of Warrnambul, 160 miles west of Melbourne.
One of the town's beaches, Shelly Beach, is less than 2,000 feet long, but is close to the ocean outflow for the Warrnambool sewage treatment plant, operated by utility corporation Wannon Water.
In November, Hughson found thousands of nurdles, the resin pellets used to make a wide range of plastic products, on Shelly Beach.
"I didn't know what a nurdle was until we started finding them on the beach," she told Plastics News.
Hughson mobilized residents and visitors to help clean the beach by developing a social media Facebook page called "Good Will Nurdle Hunting," so named because Hughson had not long before seen the movie "Good Will Hunting."
"I didn't realize at the time it would be such a fitting name. Our community has shown so much good will in cleaning up nurdles," Hughson said.
The campaign she launched has inspired an ongoing cleanup campaign for beaches around Warrnambool and Hughson hopes it will spread more broadly to other Australian beach dwellers.
The Facebook page has more than 1,000 followers and every week about 30 "active collectors" help Hughson rid beaches of nurdles and other plastic products.
They post photos and videos and keep tallies of waste collected on the page. For example, in just one week, two people collected 31,022 items of waste plastic at Shelly.
Wannon Water said the nurdles were illegally dumped into the sewage system and it had removed 75 bucket loads from the plant itself. "Unfortunately thousands of the plastic beads washed up on nearby beaches before we were aware of the contamination," Managing Director Andrew Jeffers said at the time.
Hughson said nurdles still turn up on Shelly Beach and other beaches in the area, although not in such large quantities. But it is still possible to collect 400 in just half an hour.
"Every time there's a big swell we can collect a few thousand nurdles at a time," she said.
Hughson also has a Facebook page dedicated to collecting cotton bud sticks, which are also common on Shelly Beach because they're often flushed down sewerage systems.
"I thought they were lolly sticks," she said, and couldn't understand — at first — why there were so many on "our beach."
Hughson and her "nurdlers" collected more than 10,000 in 12 months.
Hughson said her Facebook campaigns have "got people up in arms" about plastic waste on beaches and she hopes to inspire more "nurdlers" around the nation.
She sees collecting plastic waste on beaches developing into an "ecotourism activity."
She finds the experience of nurdling and collecting other plastics "quite meditative, it focuses your mind and is good for your wellbeing."
Families and school children join nurdling expeditions, sieving sand to collect the small pellets.
"It seems once people start seeing what is washing up on our beaches and see the ocean plastic problem firsthand, they start to think about the amount of waste they generate themselves and start to make changes," Hughson said.
"Every bit of plastic we save from going into the stomaches of sea and shore birds counts."
The Victorian Government has adopted the U.S. Plastics Industry Association's initiative Operation Clean Sweep, which aims to help plastics industry operations managers reduce the loss of pellets to the environment.
"I'd like to see all [manufacturers] that use nurdles do Operation Clean Sweep training so this doesn't happen again," Hughson said.