German study tracks origins of plastic waste in Arctic

Plastic waste found in the Arctic originated from all around the world, according to a study published by the German Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).

One-third of plastic waste that still bore imprints or labels allowing analysis of its origin came from Europe, according to the study, which was published in the journal Frontiers. Waste from Germany on Tuesday accounted for 8 per cent.

“Our results highlight that even prosperous industrialised countries, which can afford better waste management, make significant contributions to the pollution of remote ecosystems like the Arctic,” AWI expert Melanie Bergmann said in a statement.

The study was made possible by a citizen science project. In cooperation with Arctic tour operators, travelling tourists from Germany collected trash washed up on the shores of the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. Between 2016 and 2021, around 23,000 items with a total weight of 1,620 kg were picked up.

Five per cent of identified plastic trash in the Arctic originated from more distant places, such as the US, China, Korea and Brazil, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Plastic debris is a global problem that even the uninhabited wilderness of the High North is not immune to,” the AWI said in the statement.

The oldest item found was a bottle fragment from Norway produced in the 1960s. The most recent piece was a shoe from Germany dating to 2012-2013, according to the study. Most of the waste could be attributed to international fisheries.

“As for remote sources, plastic debris and microplastics are transported to the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic, North Sea and North Pacific by various rivers and ocean currents,” first author Anna Natalie Meyer from the AWI said.

This study “makes an important contribution to filling knowledge gaps that exist with regard to the sources and distribution pathways of plastic waste globally and in the Arctic in particular,” a spokesperson of the German Environment Agency (UBA) told Xinhua on Tuesday.

The UBA is currently conducting research on a method to monitor beach litter on Arctic beaches using drones.

“Global efforts are needed to reduce the volume of waste in general,” starting also at the source with the elimination of the use of plastic products, the spokesperson stressed.

According to estimates by the UN, there could be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. The UN is currently working to negotiate a globally binding agreement to control plastic pollution.

“Toxic chemicals and millions of tons of plastic waste are flooding into coastal ecosystems, killing or injuring fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, making their way into the food chain and ultimately being consumed by us,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a speech at the end of January.




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