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What are three plastic caps from Font Vella, Lanjarón and Cabreiroá doing in the Arctic?


Scientists from the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Germany manage to identify 1% of the 23,000 plastic waste collected on Arctic beaches in five years

Three brand caps of mineral water, two fishing buoys and the remains of an agricultural box are among the 23,000 plastic waste collected between 2016 and 2021 on the beaches of Svalbard, in the Arctic.

These six objects still had traces of letters that revealed their origin: Spain.

The debris is part of a study carried out by the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Germany to trace the provenance of plastic that ends up on pristine beaches north of the Arctic Circle.

The task was not easy at all, since they only found labels or some clue in 1% of the garbage collected.

But the researchers managed to connect these residues with brands from all over Europe, America and Asia.

In the case of plastic from Spain, the identified waste corresponds to three plugs from Font Vella, Lanjarón and Cabreiroá, two buoys from the company Industrias Plásticas Castro SA in Gipuzkoa, and a piece of a plastic box from the company Ponienteplast SA in Almeria.

Most of the recognizable debris came from Arctic countries, particularly Russia and Norway, explains the study's lead author, Anna Natalie Meyer, a researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Locally, plastic debris finds its way into the ocean from ships and from Arctic communities, due to poor waste management systems,” she adds.

However, a third of the plastic waste with some trace or mark that would allow analyzing its origin came from Europe.

"8% had their origin in Germany and 2% in Spain," confirms Melanie Bergmann, another of the researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Considering that Germany is the European champion both in terms of plastic production and waste export, this comparatively high percentage is not all that surprising,” says Bergmann.

A sample of articles from Europe, Asia and America collected on the beaches of the Svalbard archipelago, in the Arctic.

The findings, now published in the journal


show how even European countries with advanced waste management systems contribute significantly to the pollution of remote ecosystems like the Arctic.

Plastic debris and microplastics from the most remote sources are transported to the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic, the North Sea and the North Pacific by various rivers and ocean currents.

The authors of the research even identified debris from places as far away as Brazil, China and the United States in this archipelago of the polar circle.

Citizen science with tourists

The initiative to clean up the Arctic coasts was born from the tourist guide and writer Birgit Lutz, who contacted the German researchers after reading a 2016 institute publication warning of floating garbage in the oceans.

The writer, who was already at work cleaning beaches of stranded debris, had the idea to contribute by organizing “citizen science” trips, where a group of tourists would sail along 14 remote Svalbard beaches collecting plastic debris.

The result was the removal of more than one and a half tons of waste in five years.

The collected rubbish was delivered to the institute, and in the center's laboratory they examined each object thoroughly for prints and labels.

“We wrote down the details and took pictures.

Then we investigated the company from which they came or the language in which they were written”, details the scientist Bergmann.

“The analysis found that, in 80% of the cases, the vast majority of the debris was plastic,” says Meyer.

And while a major portion of the items could be classified as coming from fisheries, their point of origin could not be identified.

The study also compares the new data with that of previous fieldwork carried out at sea and in the depths of the ocean floor, and stresses that where the most debris accumulates is on the Arctic coasts, making them a kind of final sink.

This plastic waste poses additional challenges for the ecosystems of this region, which are already overburdened by climate change.

After all, this place is warming at a rate four times the global average, the study specifies.

The German researchers say that in order to effectively tackle the problem, it is not only necessary to improve local waste management, on ships and in fisheries, but also to massively reduce global plastic production, especially in industrialized countries around the world. Europe, North America and Asia.

In fact, they point out that close to 11% of the world's production of this material ends up in waterways, from where it spreads to the most remote places on the planet.

After analyzing each piece of waste in search of possible clues, the authors of the work believe that their results show the urgent need for an ambitious and legally binding UN Plastics Treaty, a pact under negotiation and which is scheduled to enter into force. in 2024.





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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-02-07

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