Billions of Them


Billions of Them

François is a graphic designer and surfer fortunate enough to live in Guéthary – a sleepy village next to the surf capital Biarritz. Almost five years ago he went to the beach to seek inspiration. Though environmentally conscious he ironically used plastic parts he found on the beach to find new ideas for his graphic work, delivered by ocean in all colors imaginable, stranded as a massive belt of relicts of abandoned every day life.

Beaches not cleaned by community services offer a frightening representative mirror of capitalistic consumerism.
What caught his eyes and inspired him that days were not colorful plastic bags, rubber gloves or thrown away electronic parts: It was grey and black little to tiny plastic wheels always riffled sometimes small as a pea, then again the size of a Euro coin. He found more and more of this little wheels and although they were somehow beautiful, he became increasingly concerned what this plastic wheels were – and where they came from in such huge amounts.

First he contacted the Surfrider Foundation in Biarritz, then in Spain, after that chapters around Europe. From the Portuguese coast to France, even in the French Seine and on the beaches of Italy more and more of these plastic wheels were stranding on the shores. Nobody could make sense of the flood of little plastic wheels suddenly appearing everywhere. François- ever more curious and concerned – kept on investigating. And found nothing.

Some months later the Surfrider Foundation in Corsica was asked for environmental advice in the course of building a water cleaning plant. They knew of François’ findings of this weird wheels – and when they saw the plans for the cleaning plant they were off their feet: Billions of these plastic wheels were to be used in the cleaning plants to filter microbacteria out of the water. Within the size of a small swimming pool their number would reach gazillions+.

Further investigation revealed: Everytime a cleaning plant like that one was shut down for service and then turned on again, thousands of litres of water of the cleaning pools would flow out of the plants, setting free billions of these plastic wheels within it.

Through rivers they start their long way to the oceans, where they either dissolve over the course of many decades, get into the food chain, sink to the ocean ground or get carried away by the sea to some distant shore. Yet these wheels are not forbidden: Operators of water cleaning plants buy them in rough amounts from the cheapest manufacturers from China instead of the more expensive but environmentally neutral volcano stones that were used as a filtration material years before. As so often it’s an economic choice.

The Surfrider Foundation aims at restricting this method of water cleaning through awareness raising and lobbying. To this moment this efforts yielded no success whatsoever. Many times François was published as the one who found out about this environmental scandal – but the flood of the plastic wheels remains and will do so for years.

The only consequence of his finding was that the company who holds the patent for this particular method of water cleaning wanted to sew him for “harming the companies reputation out of false claims”.

When we met him on the beach of Guéthary François had just collected two hands full of plastic wheels within five minutes. In this moment his face was a mask of resignation. He continues though and stores the strangely beautifully shaped wheels in various big plastic bags in his little 3 room apartment in Guéthary.”Further Evidence” he says and picks another one out of the trash in the sand that came from the sea.

Between the size of a pea and a coin: Cleaning plants – meant to deliver cleaner water – flood the beaches with plastic.