Report addresses plastic pollution in the Arctic Ocean

It offers recommendations to researchers and policymakers designed to help address the issue.


The Wilson Center's Polar Institute, Washington, and the Harvard Kennedy School's Arctic Initiative, Cambridge, Massachusetts, have released a report, “Policy and Action on Plastic Pollution in the Arctic Ocean, based on a workshop the two organizations co-hosted in October 2019 with the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

The workshop convened more than 60 global thought leaders, stakeholders and experts that included indigenous leaders from Alaska and Norway, scientists from The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group and industry leaders in the tourism, fishing, recycling and circular economy spaces. This workshop served as a precursor—and provided input—to the 2020 Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region, organized by the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

The report offers targeted recommendations to researchers and policymakers:

  • promote awareness and understanding of the plastic pollution issue through targeted communication and education efforts to increase community engagement and solutions co-creation;
  • convene industry to educate about economic and environmental threats from plastic pollution and to generate reasonable and realistic practices for plastic pollution mitigation;
  • work with industry to develop and promote guidelines that reduce plastic waste and address appropriate disposal, recycling and reuse of plastic materials;
  • based on those guidelines, implement measures to reduce plastic pollution from ships in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas, particularly lost and abandoned gear from fishing vessels and plastic waste from transport and tourist vessels;
  • share information about promising projects already happening in the Arctic region to enable those efforts to be scaled up;
  • provide incentives for cross-sector collaboration to promote synergy between different actors addressing the plastic pollution problem;
  • encourage more producer responsibility to account for management of environmental costs associated with a product throughout its life cycle and decrease the use of plastics that cannot be recycled
  • promote financial incentives to identify alternative packaging products by using industry challenges, similar to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge;
  • identify and fund research priorities to identify major contributors to the waste stream and to measure impact of reduction strategies;
  • enable researchers to coordinate, share data and learn from each other; and
  • work with the Arctic Economic Council to develop an innovation fund and to encourage circular economy model development from production of raw materials to reclamation and reintegration of spent materials into new products.