Plastic litter in the sea - where does it end up?

Plastic items and plastic litter should not end up in the sea, our oceans are not a dumping ground for plastics. However, this does happen, and the plastics can travel for quite a long distance...

Approximate locations of the Plastic in Sea incidents

Approximate locations of the Plastic in Sea incidents (see the related file for a better view)

Plastics in the seas is a worldwide problem. Wherever there is human activity, plastics do end up in the water environment, in lakes, in rivers and also in seas. The level of plastic pollution is usually linked to density of population and human activity, and on the other hand, to the regulations and actions that are taken to prevent this from happening. Even European Union has recently introduced a lot of actions, which aim to decrease the amount of plastic waste, which ends up in the seas and shores of Europe.

The northern, Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere are sparsely populated, but plastic litter is a real environmental problem also in northern seas. The litter can travel long distances before it reaches a coast, an animal or other obstacle. The litter can pollute the coastline and cause danger to animals, or it can continue to float in the sea for years and years, as it disintegrates in the process into smaller bits and pieces.  Arctic Council's PAME working group (Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment) has launched several live trials with GPS transmitters in the past years, which have demonstrated that plastic litter can travel for thousands of kilometers within few months. A "Plastic in a bottle" capsule, which was released in September 2019, traveled over 7000 km in the North Atlantic before being stranded in Scotland.

We in POPCORN want to raise awareness about marine plastic litter. However, as there is already a lot plastics in the seas, we don't want to throw plastics overboard, even if it would be for research purposes. Our POPCORN partner, Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET) is a world class expert of oil spill drift models, and they have created a new version of their Open Drift programme, which can be used to simulate also drift models of plastic litter. We have come up with four hypothetical, but realistic incidents, which take place close to the home cities of our project partners - Turku and Oulu in Finland, Bergen in Norway and Thurso in Scotland. We will follow, with the help of MET's simulations, where does the plastic litter that was released in these specific locations end up. Every Friday we will focus on one of these incidents and give you an update of the journey so far. Where was it four weeks ago, and where has it ended up since then? Besides this, we will share with you other interesting information about marine pollution, both related to plastic pollution or oil spills in the seas. So make a new year's resolution, that is easy to keep, follow our "Plastics in the Sea" campaign in twitter and on our homepage!