Concrete solution for nurdles

Nurdles found at Muizenberg beach.
Nurdles found at Muizenberg beach.
Racine Edwardes

Eco-activists are calling on the government to devise protocols and respond on urgent environmental issues, like the nurdle spillage, which is being felt not only in Cape Town but further west on the South African coastline.

For now, however, local non-government and non-profit organisations (NGOs and NPOs) are taking it upon themselves to save the ocean and its animals.

Last week, Aaniyah Omardien of the Beach Co-op told People’s Post that, according to her sources, nurdles have been washing up on beaches from Kommetjie all the way to Plettenberg Bay.

The Pristine Earth Collective, a NGO dedicated to eliminating single-use plastics in South Africa, has decided to put the wildlife-threatening nurdles to good use as part of a pilot project that was first introduced in South Africa last year.

George van der Schyff, director at the Collective, explains: “The retrieved nurdles will be taken to the Center of Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) pilot plant at Cape Concrete in Blackheath where, using a patented formula, the nurdles will join seven types of discarded plastics to be extruded into a building aggregate, making up 10-15% of concrete blocks and pipes.” 

In simpler terms, the nurdles will be turned into the “environmentally-friendly” concrete used to make the much-talked-about plastic brick – not to be confused with the eco-brick (plastic-stuffed cooldrink bottles).

Van der Schyff explains that this plastic inclusive formula “makes them lighter and stronger with no corrosive properties”. 

“The concept has proven effective at scale in Costa Rica with a full-scale plant processing over 50 tons of plastic per day, and is being trialled in SA and the US,” he adds.

Last year, Deon Robbertze, CRDC South Africa lead partner, said the possibilities for usage of the plastic brick were illuminated.

“What we’re doing is taking the (problem) plastic and embedding it into a building product – it doesn’t have to be a brick, it could be a curbstone, it could be concrete pipes, it could be any cement/concrete product. So, you’re adding value and embedding it, you’re lowering the carbon footprint, you’re creating jobs,” Robbertze explained. 

“And everyone speaks about ‘end of life’, but there’s no end of life to this product because in 60 years if that house needs to be broken down, you can crush it up and do it again. And there’s no deterioration in the strength of the product.”

According to Van der Schyff, this is the best solution for the nurdle problem.

This, he explains, is because: “They cannot be reused or go into the recycling supply stream, so, sadly, the only other alternative is landfill, which is simply not an option in our eyes.”

Nurdles are still being collected to prevent animals from ingesting them as food, among other reason, and will be used for the plastic brick project. 

They can be dropped off at Cape Radd, Shark Spotters, Two Oceans Aquarium, Kommetjie Surf Shop, Pisces Dive Centre and Beach Blanc Café with your name and the name of the beach on which they were found, to document the scope of the problem.

  • Visit Pristine Earth Collective at pristinecollective.com or the Beach Co-op on Facebook for more information.
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