This Spanish region is the ‘most polluted’ by industrial plastic worldwide

by Lorraine Williamson
plastic in Tarragona - stock image

TARRAGONA – Following a worldwide campaign in November last year to clear plastic granules, the province of Tarragona has been labelled ‘the place with the most pollution from industrial plastic granules’. Furthermore, the amount of plastic found on a beach was unique. 

The clean-up campaign was initiated by the organisations Surfrider Europe and Good Karma Projects together with Fidra, a charity working to reduce plastic waste and chemical pollution in seas and beaches, among other things. Moreover, in 24 of the 26 countries where the search was carried out, plastic remnants were actually found.  

Largest amount ever collected within two hours 

In November 2021, some 50 volunteers cleaned an area of 938 square metres on the beach at La Pineda, Tarragona. Here, they cleared 790,000 plastic pellets, small plastic granules that serve as raw material for plastic products. 

In Tarragona, a record was broken when it came to the clearance of industrial plastic granules. Of the 6,000 clean-ups carried out by the volunteers, the area near Tarragona was by far the most polluted. This, therefore, indicates the seriousness of the situation in the province. This area has the largest petrochemical base in Europe. And, furthermore, it is where 70% of Spain’s plastic-producing industry is concentrated.

Streams and rivers also polluted 

Co-founder of Good Karma Projects, Jordi Oliva, stressed the pellets were found in ‘all streams and rivers near the companies that produce or process them’ in Tarragona. ‘Significant concentrations have even been found in streams up to 20 kilometres inland,’ Oliva stressed. Good Karma Projects has been investigating and recording the presence of plastic pellets on Tarragona’s beaches since 2018. Consequently, the organisation is preparing a report to submit to the European Commission.  

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Between Tarragona and the Balearic Islands 

Simon Witt, of the Coastal Defenders programme of environmental organisation Surfrider, referred to the ‘urgent’ situation in June 2021. This was when an expedition at sea searched for plastic between Tarragona and the Balearic Islands. ‘The sightings on our ship and on land were alarming. The crew found industrial plastic pellets up to 64 kilometres off the coast of Tarragona and Mallorca. The amount of pellets found on Cavalleria beach in Menorca was estimated at 6,000 per square metre. And that’s just one beach, suggesting the huge scale of the disaster on a national and European scale,’ he said.  

Lack of regulation is biggest problem 

Good Karma Projects and Surfrider Europe, along with other organisations, have called on the European institutions to take legal measures ‘as soon as possible’. They must regulate activities in the plastic supply chain and end the pollution caused by plastic pellets. The lack of regulation is the ‘biggest problem’ in reducing plastic pellet pollution, the organisations said. They consider the international industry programme to prevent discharges of plastic pellets into the environment, known as Operation Clean Sweep (OCS), to be ‘ineffective’ because of its ‘voluntary nature’. There is an urgent need for a binding regulatory mechanism at the EU level. This is so the relevant industries must follow strict guidelines to prevent pellets from being discharged into the environment.  

National level 

At the national level, the organisations have drawn the attention of the Spanish Minister of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, to the ‘urgent’ need for binding measures at the European level. ‘It is important to take action as soon as possible and to take responsibility and action at all levels – local, regional and national – in anticipation of EU measures,’ said, Head of Advocacy and Business Relations, Xavier Curto, of Surfrider Spain.  

Attention in Europe 

Surfrider’s representative in Brussels, Gaelle Haut, called for ‘the imposition of obligations on the industry and all actors in the plastic pellet chain’, and ‘the organisation of a strict control of the compliance with these obligations’. If not, sanctions must be taken to put an end to this environmental disaster,’ she warned. In the fight to stop industrial plastic pellet pollution, Surfrider and Good Karma Projects will present ‘the Tarragona case’ to the European Parliament this year.  

Related post: Clean up operation at Camino de Santiago

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