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France begins €30m clean-up of 55 old coastal rubbish dumps

‘At the time, they thought that throwing something over the cliff was making waste disappear,’ one environmental activist said. Le Havre is first to benefit

View of a beach in Le Havre, with Saint-Joseph church spire visible in the background

Le Havre may have some popular beaches but part of its coastline hides thousands of tonnes of old construction waste Pic: olrat / Shutterstock

The coastline around Le Havre is set to be cleaned up after years of being used as a legal rubbish dump, as part of a €30m coastal clean-up plan. There are 55 of these old coastline landfill sites across France.

Formerly known as the décharge côtière (coastal landfill) de Dollemard, the coastline in Le Havre has been a legal landfill and dumping ground for construction companies since the 1960s.

It closed in 2000, but the area is still covered in 400,000 tonnes of old waste, including old car skeletons, lumps of concrete and plastic, with rubbish stretching across as many as nine kilometres in places.

Arnaud Freret, a local activist with Surf Rider, an NGO that works to protect oceans and seas, told FranceInfo: “At the time, they didn’t really understand the concept of environmental protection, and so they thought that throwing something over the cliff was ‘making waste disappear’.

“It was out of sight, out of mind. It was quite common.”

Surf Rider has been calling for the clean-up of these sites since 2018, demanding that the mayor of Le Havre and former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe take action. 

Clean-up begins

Now, Minister for Biodiversity, Bérangère Abba, is today (February 18) launching a national plan to clean up these old sites, and stop the waste from flowing into the sea and further polluting the land.

The clean-up at Le Havre has been allocated a budget of €15million. Local authorities are now set to empty the sites, with a local association beginning to collect the waste by hand where possible.

Gwen Coupri, manager at environmental coastal association Aquacaux, said: "We are going to collect about thirty tonnes of waste across nine kilometres of beach, with a lot of scrap metal, a lot of pieces of wood, rubber and overall, five to six tonnes of plastic.”

Safety constraints

But Antonin Gimard, mayoral councillor in charge of nature, warned that the clean-up process would likely not be straightforward.

He said: "There are constraints in relation to coastal erosion. There are safety constraints for the companies that will be there. There are access constraints. We're on the edge of cliffs that are not easily accessible. There are constraints in relation to the waste and the volume that it represents in relation to its sorting.

"We have a number of limitations in this place which will require somewhat innovative working conditions, because it is not a very well-known problem.”

The clean-up launch comes soon after an announcement on the subject by President Emmanuel Macron at the Ocean Summit, which took place last week in Brest.

The government has allocated €30million in funds to help clean up three coastal landfill sites initially, but there are 55 of these landfills across France. 

Three of them will be treated this year: Dollemard in Seine-Maritime (mentioned), Fouras-Pré Magnou in Charente-Maritime and Anse Charpentier in Martinique.

The government has committed to cleaning up all 55 over the next 10 years, with more funding set to be allocated as needed.

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