nurdles versus noodles

Dear Uma: "A maximum security prison full of anti-social psychopaths constantly trying to escape." These words were once used to describe the nasty, inappropriate thoughts and desires of the subconscious.

Dear Uma:

“A maximum security prison full of anti-social psychopaths constantly trying to escape.”

These words were once used to describe the nasty, inappropriate thoughts and desires of the subconscious.

If we are to be healthy, happy individuals we must be e ver vigilant about those dark impulses, allowing them no avenue of expression.

Some people experience black-hearted thoughts and/or unhealthy desires on a minute-to-minute basis while others, of a sunnier nature, probably deal with them as seldom as once a year.

For most of us, they are an almost everyday occurrence, this leakage from the subconscious. They generally manifest fairly harmlessly as unpleasant and destructive thoughts and may be sparked by a rude driver, lousy service, an aggravating news story or the sound of an ABBA song. Or they can become unhealthy desires, such as a wish for a third martini or the longing for public discomfort of some individual who has been particularly loathsome.

I am having a hard time right now keeping my dark thoughts under control. Today I learned about nurdles and this knowledge has curdled my day, bringing forth thoughts of a deserved Armageddon and a profound revulsion for human beings as a species. My subconscious nasties have surfaced and I am enraged.

The day started out just fine: Cee and I were playing Scrabble. She used the word “nurdle”, which I duly challenged because I had never heard of it and she could not tell me what it meant, only that she knew it was a word because she had heard it on CBC.

The dictionary told us a nurdle is a plastic resin pellet which is found on most beaches in the world, contains high concentrations of PCBs and DDE (a byproduct of DDT) and is the main component of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The what? Cee hadn’t heard of it and wasn’t interested; she wanted to finish the game and go out for lunch with the loser paying the tab, as per our Scrabble agreement. She, silly woman, wanted to carry on with having a nice day. Nothing squirmed in her subconscious, stretching and looking for escape into the wide world of rage and futility.

At this point I ceded the game: I wanted Cee to go home so that I could learn more about nurdles and the Patch. My subconscious had caught the smell of corruption and the gates were coming down.

How could anyone want to eat good food in pleasant surroundings on a sunny day with a good friend when there was an opportunity to get educated about yet another foul act of mankind and rant about it uselessly? Sometimes I just don’t get Cee.

Do you know about this, Uma? I am assuming you do not or you would have mentioned it with the same ire I am feeling. And if you don’t know about it, how have you avoided hearing about it? It is in your part of the world – between Hawaii and San Francisco.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the name of a band; it is yet another blight on the planet created by our species. It is said to be twice the size of Texas and may contain up to100 million tons of garbage made up of 80 per cent land-based sources and 20 per cent stuff dumped by ships at sea. It is nine metres deep.

Some of the items making up the mass are plastic bottles, shoes, bags, toys, wrappers, toothbrushes and somehow the naming of some of the garbage makes it even more disgusting.

It’s not visible in satellite photos because the nurdles, which constitute most of the mass, are very, very small pieces and are suspended at or beneath the surface of the ocean.

The nurdles are plastics that are not biodegradable, but which do disintegrate into ever-smaller pieces while remaining polymer. The process continues down to the molecular level.

The nurdles contain high concentrations of PCBs and DDE, substances which I did not look up because it is safe to assume they are not good and I don’t need more details at this time to fuel my indignation.

Of course, the whole mess is doing inestimable damage to the ocean and all its creatures; damage that is only begun to be realized as it is discovered that even the minute krill have been choking and dying on nurdles. The chemicals also are now known to be interfering with reproduction which could lead to unimaginable monstrosities of mutations. The monstrosities are my idea, the product of a fevered imagination as I heat up with righteous indignation.

The whole mass lies in the North Pacific Gyre.

I immediately thought of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming: a “gyre” was what the falcon was turning in and couldn’t hear the falconer. It was a “widening” gyre and clearly was in the air.

The gyre that is home to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large scale system of rotating ocean currents.

I am not finished with hammering you with figures; you may want to take a break and have a cup of tea before commencing to read, because the news simply gets worse.

There are 250 billion pounds a year of nurdle materials being shipped around the world. They are the raw product in almost everything manufactured on Earth and are represented in everything imaginable from the orange juice carton in our refrigerators to the keyboards on our computers; almost everything we use contains them.

There is some small movement afoot to address the possibilities of a cleanup, spearheaded by the usual smart, energetic caring people who attempt such monumental tasks – they are generally referred to as “special-interest” groups, or the “lunatic fringe” or the dismissive title of “environmentalists.” What they always are is a minority.

Really, what can be done? Especially when it is hard to know the implications of what one purchases when the labelling is vague or incomprehensible. Ideally, a label ought to say things like, “Many of the contents are carcinogenic and well may lead to birth defects and/or an early and painful demise,” or “This packaging will end up in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and kill the ocean.”

Come to think of it, that wouldn’t work either. Last night on CBC TV some houses were shown that BC Hydro is selling, having been forced to buy them from the owners who discovered the properties being so close to the power lines constituted a health hazard. People were looking at these houses! To buy them! They are not being fooled or misled; all the information regarding the dangers of living there are clearly understood, but they are buying them anyway because they are a bargain.

It’s like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: the name says it all, there is no attempt at euphemisms because no one has to pretend any more that things are harmless and fun. Finally, everything can be named for exactly what it is because no one cares.

Is it not entirely fitting that one of the sobriquets for nurdles is “mermaids’ tears?”

Soon some clever marketer will be selling a new candy called mermaids’ tears and potato chips called nurdles.

Which reminds me, I am hungry and there is homemade chicken noodle soup on the stove. There is nothing like a good feed to soothe one’s inner anti-social psychopaths.



Heather Bennett is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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