The Arctic Marine Litter Project: knowing the sources to work on solutions

Take a moment to visualise the Arctic: icebergs, snow-capped mountains, polar bears, walruses...But the truth is quite the opposite. Many of the beaches in the European Arctic are littered, and the most abundant type of litter is plastic.

  • The Arctic Marine Litter Project: knowing the sources to work on solutions

A never ending stream of plastics

Although lying at the outer edge of Europe, the Arctic is not isolated and certainly not unaffected by human influence. Through ocean currents, plastic litter is transported to the Arctic every day. And it stays there, often locked in the ice. In a way, one could say that the Arctic is the drainage hole for plastics coming from Europe and North America. 

We know that litter travels long distances with ocean currents, but this is the first time that litter found at the remote Arctic island of Jan Mayen has been traced back to its origin, Canada
Wouter Jan Strietman, researcher on the blog

A threat to wildlife and local communities

This continuous stream of plastics coming info the Arctic not only poses a threat to wildlife but also local communities and tourists who are unwittingly exposed to this waste. Animals of all sizes, from zooplankton to polar bears can be affected by ingesting plastics or getting entangled in ropes and nets. These same items also pose a safety risk to cruise ships because they can get caught in propellers.

Beach Litter  Spitsbergen 21 - Photo credits WJ Strietman.jpg

Prevention is the solution

What can be done to solve this problem? Cleaning up beaches or collecting floating plastic from the Arctic sea could be an option but also an immense task, given that millions of tons of plastic items are stuck in the ice, on unreachable beaches or on the seafloor. A more effective approach is to reduce the amount of plastic litter coming into the Arctic by working on prevention. This is the approach appleid in the Arctic Marine Litter Project.

Beach Litter  Spitsbergen 19 - Photo credits WJ Strietman.jpg

The Arctic Marine Litter Project

The Arctic Marine Litter project is designed to work as a catalyst for change by directly engaging stakeholders in the identification of sources and solutions and by providing input for ongoing initiatives on marine litter in the Arctic. The project is divided into four stages:

  1. Identifying the most common litter items in the European Arctic
  2. Identifying key stakeholders, underlying behaviour and processes that have resulted in the main litter items ending up in the Arctic
  3. Engaging these stakeholders in defining practical solutions and management actions to prevent litter from ending up in the Arctic
  4. Identifying what additional information should be collected through beach litter monitoring programmes in order to be able to evaluate the impact of actions taken
The Arctic Marine Litter Project Approach
The project is a collaborative, multidisciplinary project and involves partners throughout the Arctic.
Researcher Wouter Jan Strietman

We need you to tackle this problem

As the problem of plastics in the Arctic is multi-faceted and international, there is no single solution. Therefore, working on solutions means working on a variety of issues, with a variety of stakeholders and scientific disciplines.

Together with partners throughout the region, Wageningen University & Research provides the expertise needed to work on solutions to prevent the Arctic from becoming a plastic soup and to preserve this magnificent landscape for future generations.