According to experts from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, a large fraction of plastic waste from the UK is accumulating in the Arctic Ocean, putting large amounts of wildlife at risk.
Although there is already a considerable amount of pollution found amongst the water and ice, Imperial researchers have been able to provide evidence that much of the plastics found there originate from the UK.
It is feared that animals and marine organisms mistakenly eat or become entangled in the plastics that accumulate in the ocean, causing severe health issues and death.
By tracking the path of UK plastic using PlasticAdrift.org, a tool used by the team to track ocean currents, after being flushed around the British coastline, the research found that the pollution finds its way to the Barents Sea, before circulating in the Arctic.
Dr Erik Van Sebille, who led the team, said that, “from seabirds caught in loops of plastic packaging to polystyrene particles blocking the digestive systems of fish, plastic causes a continuous path of destruction from surface to seafloor,” he continued, saying that “this analysis shows how in the UK we’re part of the problem.”
In 2010 it was estimated that millions of tonnes of plastic reaches the world’s oceans each year, from around 4.7 million to 12.7 million tonnes.
Out of all the plastic that happens to reach the oceans, it is thought that only one per cent remains floating on the surface.
The UK is one of the biggest users of plastic in Europe, making up for 7.7 per cent of demand in the EU. Of this Dr Van Sebille said:
“It would be impossible to ban plastic, and undesirable as it is a useful material that offers many benefits.
“We should instead have a holistic approach to improving the situation, including social and behavioural, chemical and engineering solutions – aiming to minimise the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and make sure it degrades quickly and safely if it does.”
Last month a Dutch foundation revealed its plans to help clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You can read about it here.