Inside France’s plastic pellet spill: Authorities hunt culprits as environmentalists brand prevention efforts “insufficient”
26 Jan 2023 --- French authorities are hunting the culprits of a recent mass plastic pellet spill off the coast of Brittany, which is believed to have come from a shipping container somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Environmentalists say the pellets – also known as nurdles – have been appearing across the north-west French coastline since last year.
Recovering the pellets entirely is said to be impossible as the quantity and area size is too large, according to Lionel Cheylus, spokesman of the Surfrider Foundation.
“When we talk about this pollution, we rarely focus on who is really behind it. Although companies have set up a system called Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), it is clear that the measures taken are ineffective,” Cheylus tells PackagingInsights.
OCS announced the launch of its first-ever certification scheme today, through which plastics actors can prove they are implementing correct safety procedures and prevention measures against pellet loss.
The French state is said to be supporting the efforts to ameliorate the incident in Brittany and promises to take legal action against those responsible.
Plastic nurdle spills are prevalent throughout the plastics value chain, including production, packing, loading, transport, unloading, and conversion. Some estimates put the number of pellets lost at hundreds of thousands of metric tons annually in Europe alone.
Who is responsible?
Cheylus says it is difficult to precisely know the origin of the pollution in France.
“The most likely hypothesis is the loss of a container at sea, filled with these plastic pellets and which would have opened, spilling millions of plastic bills on the French western coast,” he says.
Experts from the Centre de documentation, de recherche et d'expérimentations sur les pollutions accidentelles des eaux (Cedre) recently published a first analysis report showing that the pellets collected in different Atlantic regions of France have the same components and seem to be from the same source.
Moreover, the analysis states that these pellets do not seem to have remained in the ocean environment for very long. “The pollution is, therefore, recent,” explains Cheylus.
“For the Surfrider Foundation, it is not possible to clean the oceans of their plastic pollution. These pellets are so small that it is very difficult to collect them and the sand easily covers them. The Surfrider Foundation organizes collections, but they are not cleaning operations. They are operations to raise awareness among the general public and to mobilize our volunteers in our 48 branches.”
A call on the European Commission
Everything that Surfrider Foundation collects is quantified very precisely into dozens of categories of waste, and its team of lobbyists uses the figures to defend its positions with French and European policymakers, Chellus continues.
While the Surfrider Foundation cannot say that what happened in France resulted from the loss of a container, such incidents in international waters are not regulated.
“The International Maritime Organization must do its part to prevent pollution coming from the sea, especially via maritime transport, but time is running out.”
Surfrider Foundation calls on the European Commission to regulate through several requests:
- Adopt binding measures that hold all companies involved in the manufacture, use, or transport of industrial plastic pellets accountable to the law.
- Require companies to follow and respect specific and harmonized minimum requirements for the management of industrial plastic pellets to prevent spills.
- Impose training for all employees.
- Set legal requirements for annual independent third-party audits of these companies.
- Ensure that companies work together along the supply chain.
- Penalize the release of industrial plastic pellets into the environment and require immediate reporting and clean-up in the event of an accident.
- Refuse permits for new infrastructure that will increase plastic production in Europe.
“In France, several associations, local elected officials and the state have filed a complaint so that investigations can tell us more about this pollution. We welcome the reaction of the French government, which is committed to pushing the issue during the negotiations on the international treaty on plastic pollution,” Cheylus concludes.
By Louis Gore-Langton
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.