Very little sewage treatment is carried out on the Norwegian Svalbard island group. In a preliminary study commissioned by the Norwegian Environmental Protection Agency, IVL, in collaboration with the Norwegian Polar Institute and Aarhus University, has analysed the presence of microlitter in the waters around Svalbard and in the outlet of a new treatment plant in the Ny-Ålesund research village. The study shows that the purification process can eliminate 99 per cent of microlitter.
– Research shows that local microlitter emissions are substantial, but that even the use of conventional sewage treatment technology can limit these emissions considerably. Levels of microlitter in the purified wastewater remain elevated, but this is still an important first step towards a fully developed sewage treatment on Svalbard, and throughout the Arctic region as a whole, says Maria Granberg, researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
Marine microlitter is carried to the Arctic by ocean currents, but also comes from local sources such as shipping, fishing activities and industry, as well as landfills and municipal wastewater effluents. In addition, polluted wastewater is discharged from hospitals. In smaller settlements, the management of waste water and waste can be compared to that found in many developing countries.
– In recent times, tourism has increased significantly in the Arctic, and furthermore industrial exploitation has increased as virgin regions, previously covered by ice, are exposed in the wake of climate change. This increases the load and emissions. Sewage treatment issues must be given priority, both to curb local microlitter emissions but also to combat other pollutants harmful to the environment, says Maria Granberg.
Microlitter in wastewater effluents consists mainly of both plastic and natural textile fibres, in sediment samples it they are mostly a variety of microplastic debris. Microlitter concentrations were elevated in the vicinity of communities.