German waste litters the Arctic

Even wealthy and environmentally conscious industrialised countries such as Germany contribute significantly to the pollution of remote ecosystems such as the Arctic.

WORLD MARCH 23. 2024 16:30

Plastic debris finds its way into even remote regions of the world such as the Arctic. For five years, participants on Arctic voyages collected plastic waste washed ashore on the on Svalbard, which the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) has analysed.

The results show that one third of the readily identifiable plastic waste collected comes from Europe, and most of that from Germany.

Even rich and environmentally conscious industrial countries like Germany contribute significantly to the pollution of remote ecosystems such as the Arctic. The study is part of a program known as „Citizen Science” which gives interested citizens the chance to actively engage in scientific research. Travellers collected rubbish washed ashore on the coast of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole.

„The rubbish was collected along certain routes and then counted and weighed for us [AWI] and sent the data,”

explains AWI research and study author Melanie Bergmann in an interview for Between 2016 and 2021, 23,000 pieces of rubbish were collected, weighing more than 1,620 kilograms. Of this, 80 per cent was plastic waste, the rest, for example, metal or other materials. The vast majority of the debris is fishery-related, such as the remains of fishing nets or plastic containers for fish caught.

Around 30 per cent came from Russia, 15 per cent from Norway and nearly 10 per cent from Germany. „Given that Germany is the European champion in both plastics production and waste exports, this relatively high contribution seems less surprising,”

the experts say. But they have also found plastic waste from countries such as Brazil, China and the US, which are thousands of kilometres away from the Svalbard. The plastic waste is carried into the sea via rivers and ocean currents from the Atlantic, North Sea and North Pacific to the Arctic Ocean. To tackle the problem effectively, experts say that not only must waste management be improved in countries around the world, but stricter standards are needed in the area of fishing.

However, it is equally important to drastically reduce global plastic production, especially in industrialised countries in Europe, North America and Asia, as around eleven per cent of plastic production ends up in water. „This underlines once again the urgent need for an ambitious and legally binding UN Plastics Convention, currently under negotiation, which would enter into force in 2024.”

said Bergmann. Plastic waste poses further challenges to Arctic ecosystems, which are already under extreme stress from rising temperatures due to climate change. The Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average.



germany, waste