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Plastic Pollution in the Arctic

05 Apr 2022

Plastic pollution is now pervasive in the Arctic, even in areas with no apparent human activity, such as the deep seafloor. In this Review, we describe the sources and impacts of Arctic plastic pollution, including plastic debris and microplastics, which have infiltrated terrestrial and aquatic systems, the cryosphere and the atmosphere. Although some pollution is from local sources — fisheries, landfills, wastewater and offshore industrial activity — distant regions are a substantial source, as plastic is carried from lower latitudes to the Arctic by ocean currents, atmospheric transport and rivers. Once in the Arctic, plastic pollution accumulates in certain areas and affects local ecosystems. Population-level information is sparse, but interactions such as entanglements and ingestion of marine debris have been recorded for mammals, seabirds, fish and invertebrates. Early evidence also suggests interactions between climate change and plastic pollution. Even if plastic emissions are halted today, fragmentation of legacy plastic will lead to an increasing microplastic burden in Arctic ecosystems, which are already under pressure from anthropogenic warming. Mitigation is urgently needed at both regional and international levels to decrease plastic production and utilization, achieve circularity and optimize solid waste
management and wastewater treatment.

Status: Completed

Type: Staff Publications

Year of publication: 2022

Publisher: Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

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