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pellets

Near-invisible trash on the beach

Grain by grain, tons of plastic pellets have washed up onto the beaches of São Paulo State

DANILO BALTHAZAR SILVA / IO-USPGrain by grain, tons of plastic pellets have washed up onto the beaches of São Paulo State DANILO BALTHAZAR SILVA / IO-USP

It appears that the amount of 3 to 5-millimeter pellets of plastic mixed into the sand on Brazilian beaches is larger than once imagined. Only 10% of such pellets are observed near the sand’s surface, and most of them are buried up to two meters deep, according to a study conducted in the cities of Santos and São Vicente on the southern coast of São Paulo State. “We wanted to see how deep the pellets went,” says biologist Alexander Turra, professor at the Oceanography Institute of the University of São Paulo (IO-USP) and coordinator of the study (Scientific Reports, March 27, 2014). “We dug deeper and deeper, and we kept on finding the plastic pellets.” Turra and his team estimated the total amount of pellets at 15 metric tons accumulated in the sand in the sampled area, which extends for about seven kilometers. The material is thought to come either from companies that produce or use this type of plastic, or from pellets lost during transportation and storage in shipping containers. In collaboration with the Plastivida Institute, Turra is preparing a procedure manual to help companies reduce the loss of pellets. “It’s not possible to remove the pellets from the beach, but we can prevent more of them from washing ashore,” the researcher proposes.

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