By Joanna Prisco, for Global Citizen
Microplastic pollution is legion in Switzerland — even the most remote parts of its world-renowned mountains, according to new research.
In a study conducted by Michael Scheurer and Moritz Bigalke at the Geographical Institute of the University of Bern, the scientists found microplastics, fragments under 5mm in size, in 90% of the country’s soils.
It is believed that the particles are carried across the nation by the wind, according to a report published in Environmental Science and Technology.
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“We were really surprised,” said Bigalke in conversation with The Guardian, referring to the discovery in remote mountain regions. “All the areas were in national parks. We thought we might find one or two plastic particles, but we found a lot.”
Humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since 1950, a weight equivalent to 1 billion elephants.
More than 75% of this plastic has been thrown away, left to break down into microplastics and, in turn, be absorbed by the soil, the sea or swept up by the wind.
But perhaps most confounding to scientists is that almost 100% of the plastic used in Switzerland is either recycled or incinerated — the highest rate in Europe, according to The Guardian.
“These findings are alarming,” said Scheurer in The Guardian’s report. “New studies indicate that microplastics in the soil can be harmful to and even kill earthworms in the soil.”
And if the microplastics are able to travel as far as distant mountaintops, they may be seeping into other areas of the environment undetected.
“There is a need for research into the question of how microplastics affect food production, and whether it can get into the food chain,” said Bigalke.
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