In a rather disturbing recent report, a team of German-Swiss researchers uncovered up to 14,000 microplastics per litre of melted snow in the Arctic.
Speaking to the BBC, research team member and ecologist Dr Melanie Bergmann said the snow was tainted with not just plastics but rubber and clothing fibres as well.
“We use so much plastic in everything we do including varnishes and polymer coatings that we don’t even think about the consequences,” she said.
What makes the Arctic microplastic pollution more alarming is very few people live in the region. All of the pollution is being driven northward by air and sea currents.
It’s a similar story on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef where large plastic items are washing up on uninhabited islands and the extent of nanoplastic and microplastic pollution is not yet fully understood.
Marine photographer and wildlife educator Michaela Skovranova has been up in Australia’s far north a number of times and says it is devastating to see the extent of plastic pollution.
“You can just run your hand through the sand and you’ll find plastic on the most deserted of beaches,” she says.
Commenting on the problem after returning from shooting Protecting Paradise, a documentary made by National Geographic in partnership with Corona and Parley for the Oceans, Skovranova says the extent of the problem really wears you down.
Michaela Skovranova, centre, on location in the Great Barrier Reef.
“It was horrendous, we were cleaning up over a tonne of rubbish per kilometre and all of it was very relatable to our society because we were picking up items like toothbrushes and shampoo bottles.”
Part of the problem is most Australians are fairly ambivalent about it says Skrovranova.
“We don’t recognise how much our individual actions affect the environment and say to ourselves ‘my bit of rubbish won’t make a difference’ but it does.
“Even if we do the right thing, the plastic ends up in landfill or it’s shipped overseas to be recycled where it mostly doesn’t get recycled.”
And some of that “recyclable” material is so contaminated that Asia countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, who are sick of being dumping grounds for our rubbish, are sending it back.
Skrovranova says it’s up to us to reduce plastic pollution and individuals need to reconnect with the environment.
“Think of how much better a drink tastes out of glass or eating with regular steel cutlery rather than plastic cutlery. And remember, when you pay for a plastic bottle of drink, you’re ingesting microplastics as well.
Yet Skrovranova understands individuals can only go so far and we need bigger solutions from business and government.
“It really is up to governments to introduce legislation around how to control rubbish and what we are producing.
“Importantly, consumers need to be given affordable options beyond plastic. We can’t expect people with mortgages, kids and energy bills to pay a premium for non-plastic items. It’s up to business and government to step up.”
Lead Image credit: iStock urfinguss