New research points to the magnitude of plastic pollution and its effects in the world’s most remote region.
Microplastics have been discovered for the first time in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica, according to newly published research, raising concerns about the pollutant’s effects on ecosystems, ice melting and potential health risks.
Alex Aves, a student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, collected snow samples from 19 sites across the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 2019 and said she was shocked to find microplastics — any piece of plastic less than five millimeters long. – in each sample.
“It’s incredibly sad, but finding microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow shows the extent of plastic pollution even in the most remote regions of the world,” she said.
Her research, published Wednesday in the scientific journal The Cryosphere, found an average of 29 microplastic particles per liter (about a quart) of melted snow.
Microplastics have previously been found in fish in the deepest reaches of the ocean and in Arctic ice, infiltrating the most remote and otherwise pristine regions of the planet, but not in freshly fallen snow.
The density of microplastics was almost three times higher right next to the science bases at Ross Island, Scott Base and McMurdo Station.
Of the 13 different plastics found, the most common was PET, which is commonly used to make soda bottles and clothing.
Microplastics may have traveled thousands of miles through the air, but it’s equally likely that the presence of humans in Antarctica created a microplastic “footprint,” the study found.
The study confirmed what scientists expected, said senior scientist Olga Panto of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.
“It is really impossible for any organism to now avoid the effects of human activity, similar to the way all environments and organisms are affected by human-induced climate change,” she told the dpa news agency.
Reports underline the need for concerted action against the ubiquity of plastic pollution to prevent its impact.
Important steps are needed to reduce the use and management of plastics, Panto said.
Global plastic waste
Plastic waste contributes not only to polluting the oceans, but also to the climate crisis – by emitting greenhouse gases as it breaks down – and it poses a risk to human health.
About 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, more than 60 percent of which has been dumped in landfills, incinerated or dumped directly into rivers and oceans. In 2019, some 460 million tons of plastic were used, twice as much as 20 years earlier.
With the current annual global production of plastic, global plastic waste is expected to triple by 2060, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported Friday.
The OECD predicts that this increase will be driven by economic and population growth. The largest increases are expected in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
By 2020, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national scientific agency, estimates that 14 million tons of harmful microplastics will be at the bottom of the world’s deep oceans as a result of the widespread use of plastic.
About 4 to 8 percent of annual global oil consumption is made up of plastic, and that could be 20 percent by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.