New invention launched to tackle issue of microbeads on Wellington's beaches

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

A new invention to clear plastic microbeads off beaches is being piloted in Wellington.

The microbeads, called nurdles, are a pollution issue on several beaches around the city and removing them is an ongoing challenge.

The invention resembles an ordinary wheelie bin, but beach cleaners are hoping it could be a game changer. 

"It's such a fantastic invention because we've really been looking for a way for so long to get these nurdles off the beach," said student volunteer Caitlyn Shannon. 

"These little bits of plastic are real harmful to the fish because it looks like plankton, like their food," added another 13-year-old volunteer, Jack Tetley.

The device works by filling the bin with seawater where contaminated soil or sand is tipped in. The nurdles then rise to the top and are collected, and the rest goes back on the beach. 

"This in the past has taken me 20 hours to filter through this - and you can see how much there is - where this has taken two hours," said Mandy Coleman from Sea Shepherd Wellington.

Plastic microbeads are often used to make products, but spills from companies mean they end up in the ocean. 

"I've been really shocked," said Mr Tetley. "It's really disappointing to see how much is there."

The filter was invented by the head of Lower Hutt plastic manufacturer Synapco.

"It would be easy to say, 'Aw, you're doing penance for cleaning up your own mess,' and there was some concern that people might think that," said Synapco General Manager Dave Pine. "But at the end of the day you know I dive in the harbour. I collect scallops and things for my family to eat." 

There are currently six bins in Wellington and plans to provide more. But as yesterday's haul of 150 kilograms of waste shows, a lot more work is needed.