One container may have held 57,000 pounds of plastic pellets.
In a blow to local wildlife and coastal communities, countless tiny plastic pellets are littering the waters and beaches along Spain's northern coast after containers filled with the stuff fell off a shipping boat and into the ocean near Portugal, according to the BBC.
The environmental disaster unfolded starting in December, the BBC reports, when several containers holding sacks of plastic pellets aboard the Toconao and chartered by shipping company Maersk were lost at sea about 50 miles away from northern Portugal. It's believed that one of them contained more than 57,000 pounds of plastic pellets, which are technically called "nurdles" and are used to make items such as plastic bottles.
Since the spill, people have been reporting a tidal wave of plastic pellets washing up on beaches in Spain's north west coast, prompting emergency clean ups and an investigation by local officials.
The BBC reports that the plastic pellets can measure in widths of less than 5 millimeters, making them technically microplastics.
Though authorities have said the pellets are non-toxic, they still poise a danger to wildlife and the environment and have potentially harmful impacts on the human body because they contain an alphabet soup of chemicals.
A study last year led by scientists at the Ocean Conservancy and the University of Toronto found that Americans will unknowingly ingest 11,500 microplastic particles on average annually.
So, when the plastic pellets were lost at sea in early December, you can imagine it sparking a grim chain of events in which tiny plastic particles floating in the ocean end up in the belly of fish, and the fish eventually ending up on your plate.
Plastic pollution is everywhere, and that's bad.
More on plastic pollution: Scientists Find Microplastics Inside Clouds
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