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Coming Soon to an Irish Shore Near You? MEP Grace O’Sullivan Highlights Environmental Damage of Plastic Spill in Galicia

Following the spillage of over a billion plastic pellets into the Atlantic Ocean from a container ship in December, MEP Grace O’Sullivan has travelled to Galicia with Greens/EFA colleague MEP Ana Miranda to survey the environmental damage in the area. The Waterford MEP, who first legislated for the elimination of micro-plastics in beauty products in the Seanad in 2017, is now a lead negotiator in the European Parliament on the Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) and has set her sights on banishing the production of needless, single use plastic packaging in particular. 

On arrival in Galicia following a week of plenary debates in Strasbourg, O’Sullivan noted the immense efforts being made by local volunteers and environmental groups to clean up the beach environment of the North Spanish coasts, which has been taking place for a number of weeks now. 

“These plastic ‘nurdles’ are only about 5 millimetres in length, and so it is often like trying to find a needle in a haystack when they are spread out over hundreds of kilometres along the coast. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t very hard to spot them at any beaches we went to, alongside the more regular plastic pollution such as beverage bottles, food packaging and discarded fishing ropes” O’Sullivan shared. 

Over 25 tonnes of pellets fell overboard from the Liberian-flagged vessel Toconao on December 8th of last year, with the extent of the disaster being hidden for weeks by the conservative Galician government. This has prompted a large outcry for accountability in the lead-up to regional elections in the area next month, with environmentalists, fishers, trade unions and dozens of other groups marching in the city of Santiago de Compostela together recently. For O’Sullivan, she notes that this spillage is just one larger event within the estimated 184,000 tonnes of plastic pellets washed into our oceans annually. 

“We’ve created a plastic monster, and in my view most people are sick of the excessive amount of plastic being produced and they want to see a change. From my work on the Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation however, I can see there is a massive lobby still at play here which wants to keep the status quo, where polluters can continue to pollute, all for the sake of keeping their costs down. With this system, it’s us as citizens who pay the price, with our polluted environments, loss of biodiversity and damage to public health” the MEP shared. 

O’Sullivan notes the potential of these spills to occur off the Irish coast, and just last week discovered and reported an abnormal amount of nurdles washing up in her hometown of Tramore, Co. Waterford.

“This is an oil spill, but a very different one than what we are used to seeing. There is potential for these nurdles to act as sponges and soak in toxins from the sea, acting then as a poisoning agent in our oceans. They will linger around and eventually make their way up the food chain, eventually posing a very real human health risk as well”. 

O’Sullivan is continuing to work on strengthening the PPWR, and is also pushing for the implementation of a European Commission proposal for stricter safety requirements for the transport of these plastic pellets.

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