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France takes legal action over plastic pellets causing an ‘environmental nightmare’ on its beaches

origin 1A large amount of plastic pellets washed ashore polluting the beaches of Pornic in western France. ©LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Last year, tiny white balls of plastic started washing up on beaches France and Spain.

The round pearls measure less than 1.5mm and are known as “mermaid’s tears”. They are officially called industrial plastic granules (IPG) and are melted down to create everyday plastic objects.

Their small size makes them incredibly difficult to clean up despite the best efforts of volunteers.

Several waves of these plastic pellets have polluted Brittany’s beaches over the past two months. In December they were found in Finistère, then in Sables d’Olonne and more recently in Pornic. Winter winds and water currents have carried more and more plastic to the shore.

Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu announced on Saturday (January 21) that the French government was taking legal action over this “environmental nightmare”.

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Where do plastic pellets come from?

No one knows exactly where the pellets come from. Officials have tested the samples but the results have not yet been released.

NGOs and environmentalists involved in cleaning up this plastic pollution, like the Surfrider Foundation, have their own theories. They believe that “mermaid tears” may come from shipment containers that have fallen into the Atlantic Ocean, spilling the beads into the water.

origin 1This photograph taken on January 21, 2023 shows plastic beads, also called “mermaid tears.”LOIC VENANCE/AFP

“It could very well be that one or more container loads of plastic pellets have been lost in the North Atlantic and are spilling their load onto adjacent beaches or released from a container already lost some time ago,” says Cristina Barreau, head of microplastics research. by Surfriders.

The legal complaint has been launched “against x” – unknown people – but officials say it is impossible to fully identify the origin of these plastic pellets. The Surfrider Foundation says prosecutors must now begin the “long and painstaking” process of establishing who is guilty.

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What is being done to clean up plastic pellets?

Last weekend, the Surfrider Foundation organized a day of action on the beaches of France. They estimate that hundreds of thousands of white plastic beads have so far been washed away.

In December in Tréguennec in Finistère, volunteers collected more than 80,000 pellets from the beach in less than an hour. An estimated 160,000 tons of these tiny pearls are “lost” each year during manufacturing processes in the European Union alone.

The Surfrider Foundation says the industry must take action and take responsibility for this plastic pollution. Anti-waste french e circular economy the laws already imply that producers must take measures to prevent the pellets from entering the wild, but they do not apply outside the territory of the country.

origin 1Dozens of volunteers search for plastic beads, also called “mermaid’s tears,” on a beach in Pornic.LOIC VENANCE/AFP

The NGO calls for strong European standards to put an end to this pollution. He says the EU must reduce plastic production with quantified targets and strict deadlines. Cleaning up spills like this once they happen is virtually unattainable, which means prevention is key.

In January, the mayor of Pornic, Jean-Michel Brard and the mayor of Sables d’Olonne, Yannick Moreau, as well as the president of the Pays de Loire region, Christelle Morançais, filed a legal complaints about this plastic pollution.

Béchu praised elected officials, NGOs and volunteers for highlighting bad industrial practices that lead to pollution like this.

“The state is on your side, we have decided to file a complaint,” he announced on Twitter.