Plastic pollution in the Arctic

Melanie Bergmann, France Collard, Joan Fabres, Geir W. Gabrielsen, Jennifer F. Provencher, Chelsea M. Rochman, Erik van Sebille, Mine B. Tekman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-337
Number of pages15
JournalNature Reviews Earth & Environment
Issue number5
Early online date5 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


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