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Pollution: Complaint lodged over plastic microbeads on French coast

The beads are used in plastic production industries and can cause severe, invasive pollution to nature. It is thought an industrial accident may be the cause

A photo of the Sables d’Olonne beach

The microbeads have been found on many Atlantic coast beaches, including the Sables d’Olonne Pic: Thomas Pajot

The French Ecology Ministry has lodged a complaint after industrial plastic microbeads have been found washed up on several beaches on the French Atlantic coast, polluting the shoreline.

The complaint, announced on Saturday, January 21, calls for “justice” against an unnamed defendant, “X”.

Microbeads are little industrial beads, 5mm across, which are used in the production of most plastic products, when they are melted down to make everyday plastic objects. In French, they are often known as ‘GPI’ (granulés plastiques industriels). The beads are also sometimes called ‘siren tears’.

They are different from other microplastics, which occur when existing plastic objects break down.

‘Extremely invasive pollution’

It comes after several mayors made complaints from coastal towns, including Pornic (Loire-Atlantique) and Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée), and a complaint by Pays de la Loire regional president, Christelle Morançais, about the hundreds of thousands of beads washing up on the coast.

Ms Morançais complained of “extremely invasive pollution [with] dramatic consequences for flora and fauna”. She laid the blame at the door of “rule-breaking companies that devastate our oceans, our water, and our environment”.

Christophe Béchu, Ecology Minister, has now responded, saying: “The state is at the side of your campaigns, and I am letting you know of our intention to take this to court.” He said that GPIs were an “environmental nightmare…the equivalent of 10 billion plastic bottles”.

Microbeads were also noticed in Finistère at the end of last year, and were also detected across beaches in Vendée, Morbihan, and in Loire-Atlantique. 

‘Poison for fish’

Hundreds of people took part in a beach cleaning session on Pornic beach this weekend, to help clear up the beads and to raise awareness of their denunciation of the pollution. They took part in a demonstration, and held up placards reading: “Plastic pollution = guilty industry!” and “Poison for fish”.

Lionel Cheylus, spokesperson for the NGO foundation Surfrider, told the AFP: “We think that it has come from a container, which, maybe, was damaged a while ago, and because of recent storms, has opened.

“We found these pellets in December in Finistère, and then in summer in Sable d’Olonne, and then here in Pornic, then Noirmoutier. It’s pollution that moves.”

Mr Cheylus said he believed that Storm Gérard had been moving the beads around more. 

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