Wellington manufacturers admit spilling plastic beads down storm water drains

A Lower Hutt plastics company has owned up for its part in the hundreds of thousands of plastic beads that are scattered around Wellington coastlines.

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

IML Plastic's commercial manager Richard Jorgensen said the company had not been irresponsible but the view that its processes were adequate was wrong.

"We are responsible and I think it's inadvertent rather than intentional," he said.

Nurdles are small plastic pallets that are used for making a wide range of products. 

As a contaminant in the ocean, they attract other pollutants and concentrate with them, often being mistaken for food by marine life.

Mr Jorgensen said spills from teared polypropylene bags that plastic beads are kept in happen every three to four weeks. Most of the beads are cleaned up by the company, but a small amount reach the nearby stormwater drains and end up in Wellington Harbour, he said.

We're working with the council to make sure our processes and procedures are best practice - Richard Jorgensen, IML Plastic's commercial manager

"It could be that a bag is spared by forks on a forklift at some site outside IML or it could have been damaged by the supplier."

Last weekend, hundreds of nurdles were photographed on the ground around the premises.

The bags range in size from 25kg to 750kg, with the amount of beads that can't be used from a spill being around three to four kilograms, he said. Mr Jorgensen said of this waste, 95 per cent is cleaned up.

"We're working with the council to make sure our processes and procedures are best practice and they've got some really good suggestions and we're going to implement them," Mr Jorgensen said.

None of it's ideal and none of it's acceptable - Gordon George, Hutt City Council trade wastes manager

Hutt City Council first approached IML Plastics about the issue three months ago, after coming across a truck spillage of beads on a road outside the factory. Since then, it's been working with IML Plastics to install storm water drain filters, which will be the first filters to be installed near an industrial site in the Hutt area.

Hutt City Council's trade wastes manager Gordon George said there's been issues with the sizing of the filters for the trial, but it's hoped they'll be installed in the next few weeks. 

He said they plan to work with other plastics companies in the area next. Fines would only be considered for companies that don't try to fix the issue.

"None of it's ideal and none of it's acceptable," Mr George said.

"The issue is there's multiple sources for these. There's probably six or seven companies in our area alone that use them, plus distribution centres for the materials and we can't be everywhere all the time."

The fact that it's getting worse means more is being dumped out there - Mandy Coleman of Sea Shepherd

He said education and awareness will be a focus for the council's discussions with companies as it tries to reduce plastic entering the stormwater system.

But environmentalists like Mandy and Mike Coleman, coordinators for Sea Shepherd in Wellington, are calling for regulation, saying they were first told about drain filters being implemented in 2014 and more action is needed.

The pair have led beach clean ups at Evans Bay for six years, and say despite removing plastic beads every month over that period, they're seen their prevalence increase.

"It's kind of deflating when you're trying your hardest to clean it up and it's getting worse. The fact that it's getting worse means more is being dumped out there," Mandy Coleman said.

They've traced nurdles at the beach to four plastics factories in Lower Hutt. 

"We've been in the area and you can see nurdles everywhere," Mike Coleman said.

Mr Coleman said companies need to stop spills from happening and questioned why nurdle bags couldn't be transported in robust barrels to prevent beads escaping through tears on the way to factories, instead of just focusing on drain filters.

"That's stopping at the gutters, they should be stopping it at the source," he said.

IML Plastic's Richard Jorgensen said the bags the nurdles come in is usually dictated by the overseas supplier.

Mr Coleman said nurdles entering drains is the same as a painter putting paint down the drain, or a mechanic tipping oil down the drain and companies need to step up and clean up their mess.