Watch: Meet the Wellington woman taking on the scourge of plastic 'nurdles'

Lorraine has worked at Pak'nSave in Wellington since she left school some 20-odd years ago.

Confrontation rarely figures in her life, unless you count a stand-off with her son Toby to do his homework on time, or sending bill reminders in her role as groceries manager.

But that all changed when a problem with Wellington's beaches really got to her.

She decided to stand up to the plastic moulding companies who she felt might be partly responsible for the thousands upon thousands of plastic pellets found on Wellington's beaches.

Lorraine has been helping at Sea Shepherd and Ghost Fishing beach clean-ups for some time. At Evans Bay, Petone and Oriental Bay, she would happily work hard with Toby to rid the beach and sea of plastic.

Sea Shepherd says the IML Plastics factory in Lower Hutt is the main offender after so-called nurdles were found at several popular beaches. Source: 1 NEWS

However, over the months and years, she noticed that the plastic pellet, or nurdle problem was getting worse, and few people seemed to know about it. 

Nurdles are the building blocks of lots of the plastic items we use like containers, cups and keyboards. They're imported in their billions, and melted down for use.

Lorraine took me to Evans Bay and scooped a handful up: "About three weeks ago we cleared all this area and now it's back to square one, it's actually a plastic beach," she said.

Lorraine loves spending time at the beach with Toby, and is in awe of the amazing sea life in the harbour, especially the southern right whale that recently paid a visit.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

She couldn't stand the thought that this almost hidden problem could be putting the wildlife at risk. She says, "enough is enough, we need factories to be held accountable".

A half dozen or so companies in the Wellington area work with nurdles. And while they all claim to have very strict measures in place to control and clean up spills, some nurdles do escape.

Lorraine's first mission was to take Toby to see if they could spot where these spills were happening. The first company they came to was IML Plastics where Lorraine saw nurdles along the fenceline, and spilled from pallets.

She could also see how these nurdles could easily reach the stormwater drains and was shocked.

She took photos and posted them on Facebook. The media picked up on the story and all of a sudden IML were in the spotlight admitting the spillages, and agreeing to put filters into nearby drains. Two filters have now been installed and a third is being considered.

COUNCIL APPALLED

Hot off the back of this, Lorraine met with the local council, but while they were appalled by the problem they said their hands were tied.

Lorraine felt like she'd hit a brick wall. How could she make the companies act? How could she get them to take responsibility? This wasn't a case of everyday folk being able to cut down on plastic bag use, this was an industry problem.

She turned to Fair Go, asking them to help her initiate some action. Fair Go contacted IML and arranged a meeting at Evans Bay beach.

It was the first time their operations manager, Richard Jorgenson, had seen the problem for himself. He said it was worse than he expected. It took a lot of courage, but Lorraine confronted IML about their operations.

They said they were totally confident in their clean up procedures. Lorraine questioned this further as she'd been back to IML after the media reports and seen a spillage that wasn't cleaned up for 18 hours. Richard Jorgenson said this would have been an exception.

Lorraine's main quest though was to get IML involved in beach clean ups. She said: "If your staff came here and saw the mess, they would be embarrassed, they'd be mortified to see what our volunteers are dealing with".

ONLY RIGHT

She felt that it was only right for plastics companies to help clear up what is their industry's mess. She also felt this involvement would help staff understand why preventing spills was so important.

At the time IML said they would discuss this idea, but since then they have decided not to be involved. They said they would put their efforts into looking into their supply chain instead, to see if they could improve practices there. Lorraine was incredibly disappointed.

With Fair Go's help, she also contacted three of the other plastic moulding companies in the area. She had photographic evidence of nurdle spillages for each.

Uniplas acknowledged the problem and said they'd review their procedures but didn't offer to help clean up at the beach.

Flight Plastics said prioritising the prevention of spills and participating in beach clean ups is all part of its BAU (business as usual).

They’ve been focused on recovering and removing plastic waste from the environment for some time, and that the nurdles found at the beach don't match their materials. They invited Lorraine to see their operations, and she was impressed.

Synapco were very receptive to Lorraine's demands and agreed wholeheartedly that the plastics industry should be held more accountable. Some of their staff already help out at beach clean ups.

DO MORE

They'd like more to do so and they invited Lorraine to meet their workers to talk to them about this. They said they are also working on a filter device to make clean ups easier.

Lorraine isn't overjoyed at the results, but she feels this venture has shaken things up, with companies paying even more attention to the problem.

She hopes they'll also realise that she isn't going to stop her quest. She and Toby will keep checking, keep taking photos, and keep up the pressure on all plastic moulding companies to ensure nurdles stay where they should.

Her final message to all the companies? "We have beautiful beaches and marine life, and your businesses are putting us at risk of losing this so i just want you to stand up and take control here".

Lorraine doesn't do confrontation, but felt she had to stand up for Wellington's beaches after noticing a growing problem. Source: Fair Go

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