In 2000, my husband, Richard Lang, and I began cleaning Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, carrying bags and bags of plastic garbage away. We had no idea what we would find or what would happen. Certain items would catch our interest: from disposable lighters to pastel shards. We, two people, in one year from one beach, gathered 4,300 lbs. of plastic. Back in our studio, we clean, sort, and categorize our findings then create artworks as prints, as sculptures, and as installations.


Nurdles which you see pictured are a particularly noxious component of the plastic flotsam. The picture of Richard’s hand shows the amount that was picked up in the tide line in less than five minutes. They are invisible until one begins searching, then, one sees them everywhere. Nurdles are the raw plastic that is shipped to manufacturers of bottles, car parts, toys, plastic bags, anything made of plastic. The real danger with nurdles is their absorptive capability. They are tiny magnets for metabolites, PCB’s, breakdown products of DDT—DDE and other dioxin-like substances. They are poisonous little bombs loaded with tens of 1000’s of times more poison than the ambient sea, and because they are translucent they are mistaken for fish eggs and enter the food chain.

We have photographed the nurdles against a stark black ground. The striking images use the power of the aesthetic to point out something that needs attention. So much environmental news is numbing to human action. We feel that by presenting these images large and as beautiful objects the heart that loves the world will be touched and moved to action.

We intend with this photo exposition to make big what we don’t see; to focus on our indiscriminate use of plastics. We have mined the fossil hydrocarbons for heating our houses and workplaces, for driving our planes and trains and automobiles, and yet, we only vaguely understand that fully one half of these irreplaceable primordial remnants of Carboniferous fern bogs, laid down 300,000,000 million years ago, are used to make plastic that we so blithely toss away

The image of Richard’s hand and a photograph of the nurdels will be included in the text panels for the Natural World Museum’s exhibition “Environmental Renaissance”, April 15 - June City Hall in the Rotunda Gallery inside SF City Hall, April 12- June 15.


On April 19 from 4-6 PM, I will be hosting a reception for Recycle Ryoanji outside City Hall. There will be a reception for “Environmental Renaissance” inside City Hall from 6-8 PM.

2 Responses to “Nurdles”

  1. Colleen Proppé Says:

    Hi Judy and Richard too,

    I found this online, and it explains why there are so many nurdles out there… Apparently, they are less than 5mm and are not retained in a mesh that would otherwise filter them out of the water.

    “The production and consumption of plastics and the use of throw-away products in our every- day life has increased drastically, generating exponential amounts of urban trash. The trash problem has been addressed by regulators through the “Zero Trash Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs),” which defines trash as “litter and particles of litter that are retained by a 5- mm mesh screen.” The problem comes from the fact that pre-production plastic resin beads, known as “nurdles,” which are the most common contaminant of our beaches (based on research published by SCCWRP), are less than 5 mm. These pellets have never been formed into products. Post consumer plastic fragments less than 5mm in size are also found on our beaches.”
    I found this info here…

    Very interesting. I did not know about nurdles until today… Very sad. The good news is that we are in a wave of change, and technology that will find a way to change many of our bad habits. I remember when I went to CalArts, they had no recycling at all, and I started a recycling bin at the mailroom, and would empty it myself every week. It was amazing how my little effort eventually became mainstream almost everywhere.

    Nurdles… What happens if fish eat these? It sounds so horrible. I wonder if there is any way to remove them, other than by hand? Seems like an enormous problem.



    Immature sea birds eat these nurdles and die from the poisons that the nurdles absorb. This was reported on KQED-FM on Thursday 4/12 at 1:20pm on Fresh Air. I remember the name of the person being interviewed as Ken West.

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