The build-up of plastic in the Arctic Ocean is a growing challenge in the region. Over the last decade, the amount of plastic debris in the Arctic has increased considerably as the shrinking ice coverage caused by climate change has allowed plastic debris to flow into the Arctic Ocean as never before.
Lost and abandoned fishing gear makes up a significant proportion of large plastic waste found in the oceans. Moreover, due to its geographical location and prevailing ocean currents, Pacific Ocean debris from lower latitudes are being delivered to Beaufort and Chukchi Seas through the Bering Strait, and the Arctic Ocean could become a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic.
The workshop at Harvard aims to identify and discuss challenges specific to the Arctic Ocean and design a roadmap for work on filling policy gaps and pursuing on the ground opportunities. Key areas of discussion included:
- Identifying sources of Arctic marine plastic pollution (land-based, Arctic-nation based, long-range winds, entry through straits, etc.).
- Catalysing responses from the business community, particularly the growing role of circular economy dynamics in eliminating or reducing the need for plastics.
- Determining leverage points, or areas where enhanced waste management would likely have a significant impact on the amount of plastic that ends up in the Arctic Ocean.
- Enhancing information-sharing to improve cross-sector cooperation and to reduce redundancy.
- Exploring commercially-viable alternative materials.
- Examining policy case studies from around the globe where plastic pollution reduction efforts have seen success, and how they might be replicated in, or adapted for, the Arctic.