Somewhere in Europe, trash is falling from the sky and into the ocean—and it's all because of World War 2.
After the Northern French township of Le Havre was bombed to pieces in 1944 by the British Army, all the rubble and ruin was swept away and stored on the nearby cliffs of Dollemard, which overlook the English Channel and its fickle surf spots. Since then, the town has used the site as a dumping ground, discarding their unwanted household items and miscellaneous undesirables. A decree was issued to close the waste site in 2000, but many still continue to dump there illegally. It's estimated that 400,000 tons of waste-or, in more visual terms, 13,000 truckloads of trash–have been dumped on this coastal landfill over the past 60 years.
Now, thanks to natural erosion and an increase in storm events and sea level rise, the trash-imbedded calcium cliffs are slowly eroding into the ocean—which is creating a really gross situation on the beach and in the water.
"There's an estimation that the cliff is eroding 2 meters a year," says Simon Witt, Project Manager for Surfrider EU/Keepers of the Coast. "We visited the site 3 weeks ago and you could really see that it's changed just from 2 or 3 years ago. It's happening quite fast and what we are really concerned about is how we can resolve it."
Also during their last visit, Witt and his colleagues found toxins oozing from the landfill. "Probably from rust, oil and acid from car batteries, and other metals," says Witt. "We're testing everything right now."
Surfrider EU/Keepers of the Coast are trying to resolve the issue to prevent further erosion and toxic grossness from leaking into the ocean. "We are working on a plan to excavate everything—which is a huge effort to do," explains Witt. "It's supposed to cost around 30 million euros to get everything out. The question now is who is paying for this? Who owns the land? Whoever started the landfill, are they responsible? Or is it rather the government that is responsible because it's become a public health issue?”
According to Witt, this is just one example of trash eroding into the environment. "In reality, there are hundreds or thousands of similar landfills—perhaps not as large but definitely close to that that are on the coasts and rivers around the world that are often covered by roads or buildings or other structures and they are started to leak and erode into the environment," says Witt.
While Witt and the rest of the on-the-ground environmental troops at Surfrider Europe/Keepers of the Coast are working with lawyers on their next steps, and figuring out just who the hell is responsible for taking care of the issue, Witt encourages surfers around the world to let them know if they've seen similar sites near their home breaks.
"We have a reporting system on our website and it would be amazing to start a movement where people started reporting old landfills that have been hidden but are starting to appear," says Witt. "Then we are able to act, within Europe on a European Union level and on global level potentially through the UN.”