From Iceland — Plastic Pollution Poses Problem In Arctic Ocean

Plastic Pollution Poses Problem In Arctic Ocean

Published May 8, 2020

Sam O'Donnell
Photo by
Adobe Stock

Plastic trash is now found almost everywhere in the Arctic Ocean, but research that would trace its origin is lacking. The production of plastic has increased tremendously in recent decades, and it appears that it will multiply by the middle of the century, Vísir reports.

According to a new report, made by the Belfer Center at Harvard University in collaboration with the Arctic Council, there currently isn’t any part of the Arctic Ocean untouched by plastic pollution. Sixty experts, scientists, policy-makers, and representatives of interest groups contributed to the report.

Tonnes of plastic

About 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic were produced in 2017, and production has only grown rapidly since. In fact, half of all the plastic ever produced has been manufactured within the last thirteen years. Only a fraction of this plastic has been recycled, though. Most goes into landfills.

That said, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic is released into the ocean each year. However, it is difficult to trace where this plastic comes from and who is dumping it. A sizeable percentage comes from human-to-sea activities, such as fishing and oil and gas processing, but other origin points are unknown.

How does all that trash get to the Arctic?

Although the Arctic Ocean is remote, it is far from resistant to pollution. According to Halla Hrund Logadóttir, one of the founders and managers of the Arctic project at Harvard, people often think that plastic pollution is not a big issue in the Arctic because it is rarely discussed. However, research shows that deep ocean currents carry plastic particles into the Arctic from all over the world.

“This is a complex problem with multiple solutions,” Halla told Vísir. These solutions, she emphasises, will require governments to make legislative changes and industries to reduce their use of plastic, or at the very least, recycle. Interestingly, it can be more expensive to wrap a product in plastic than it is to produce it, so perhaps an incentive to reuse plastic containers would be helpful. This would actually reduce the cost of some products such as vegetable oil and laundry detergent.

Algramó, a Chilean company that seeks to make sustainable products economically beneficial, has already begun implementing such incentives. For example, they made filling machines and reusable containers that allow consumers to buy products in a quantity that is suitable to them at a lower price.

Halla believes this is a brilliant innovation, and one that could be implemented all over the world, including in Iceland. “The consumer does not have to choose between buying a cheap product or being environmentally friendly,” she said. “These are such solutions that will help us achieve the goals of less plastic, in the Arctic and beyond, because they create the right incentive for everyone.”

Roughly 34 billion more tonnes of plastic are expected to be produced by 2050, which does not bode well for not only the Arctic Ocean, but all oceans in general. The time to act is now, and hopefully governments and industries will soon step up to reduce pollution and clean the waters. 

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