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France to take legal action over plastic pellet spill in “nightmare” | Pollution

The French government is taking legal action over the “environmental nightmare” caused by waves of tiny plastic beads washing up on the coast of Brittany.

White balls about the size of a grain of rice, called “mermaid tears”, have been appearing on the beaches of France and Spain for the past year. They are believed to have come from shipping containers lost in the Atlantic Ocean.

Dozens of volunteers turned out at the weekend to break through the sand in Pornic on France’s north-west coast to collect some of the beads, formally called industrial plastic granules (IPG), which are less than 1.5mm in size. Environmental activists admit it’s a hopeless task.

“It’s more symbolic than anything else: I don’t think we’re going to pick up the whole container,” said Anik, a pensioner who filled the bottom of a yogurt container with several dozen pellets.

Another local, Dominic, who turned out to help, said: “I wanted to pick them up but it’s endless. There are too many.”

Plastic pellets in a sieve.
Industrial plastic granules are known as mermaid tears. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Lionel Cheilus, spokesman for Surfrider Foundation Europe, the group which organized the clean-up, said: “These balls are often lost [off the French coast] but I never knew it this bad.” Surfrider estimates that around 160,000 tons of beads are lost in the EU every year, and 230,000 tons worldwide.

Jean-Francois Grandsart, of Surfrider, said: “The beads are so small that we can’t do anything about them. We can try to clean them by hand, but that’s just a drop in the ocean.” He said the plastic will break down into nanoparticles and be ingested by fish, oysters and mussels, eventually ending up on people’s plates.

Jean-Michel Brard, the mayor of Pornic, said he had filed a legal complaint along with two other mayors from affected seaside resorts in the region. However, officials say it is impossible to identify the origin of the beads.

Christoph Bechu, the minister for environmental transition, said the pellets were an “environmental nightmare” and that the government would also take legal action “against” [persons unknown]. “The state stands by the associations,” Bechu said.

The problem is not recent. In 2018, the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition raised the alarm over the impact of what it called “bio-bead pollution” on local waterways, beaches, seas and wildlife.

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