In A Flash

Resolution aimed at preventing plastic pollution in state waterways passes committee

By: - May 12, 2021 1:10 pm

A works cleans up plastic pellets that spilled out of a container ship and washed onto the Mississippi River Bank in New Orleans. (Photo from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality)

When a container of plastic pellets fell off a docked ship in New Orleans and into the Mississippi River, it took three weeks for the company that owned the vessel to hire a company to clean up the plastic pollution. By then, pellets the size of lentils had washed up on river banks stretching at least five miles.

The ship that the container fell off of — called the CMA CGM Bianca — left New Orleans three days after spilling 48,000 pounds of pellets into the river. The company was never fined.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie) told the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment Wednesday that Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution 37 aims to prevent future plastic pollution from spilling into state waters. “What we’re really trying to do is contain these spills,” she said. 

The resolution, which tasks the Department of Environmental Quality with implementing permits that mandate zero discharge of plastic and require companies to have a spill prevention plan in place, advanced out of the committee without opposition Wednesday.

Environmental groups supported the resolution. After the plastic spill in New Orleans, residents began voluntary cleanup efforts. The spill happened on Aug. 2, 2020, but it was Aug. 22 before crews from United States Environmental Service, a spill-management company, began cleaning up the plastic pollution. The company was still doing spot cleaning through late-October 2020.

Kristi Trail, the executive director of Pontchartrain Conservancy, said the pellets could be eaten by fish and birds and make their way up the food chain. “This is an important step in fixing a problem that will not go away on its own,” she said.

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Sara Sneath
Sara Sneath

Sara Sneath is a freelance environmental journalist who lives in New Orleans with her dog and three bikes.