The ocean is filled with plastic, as are many of the world’s rivers and much of its soil, and a study released earlier this year found that 73% of deepwater fish in the North Atlantic Ocean had eaten particles of microplastic. So it should be no surprise that even remote mountaintops are littered with plastic fragments created by humans.
And yet it’s still devastating to learn, per a new study, that microplastic has been discovered in a remote corner of the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, blown there from at least 60 miles away, deposited on the peaks by the wind, scientists reported Monday.
Microplastics are minute pieces of plastic waste that are nearly impossible to clean up (get on that, tech companies!). The human-created pollutant has infiltrated rivers, oceans, and even pristine polar regions, wreaking havoc on ecosystems along the way. While previous studies found that microplastics spread through water, this new study, conducted over a period of five months, found that substantial amounts of microplastic fragments, along with film and fiber debris, are blowing in the wind.
The researchers found that in a remote spot in the mountains—the nearest village was 6 km (4 miles) away, the nearest town 25 km (15 miles), and the nearest city 120 km (75 miles)—determined that an alarming amount of plastic was falling from the sky. They found 365 microplastic particles per square meter dropped from the sky each day, an amount comparable to what was found in the centers of Paris and Dongguan, China.
“Microplastic is a new atmospheric pollutant,” French researcher Deonie Allen told National Geographic. “It was incredible how much microplastic was being deposited.” The microplastics study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.
Since the tiny plastic pieces may travel much farther than 60 miles and are nearly impossible to clean up, the only realistic solution is to produce less. As inhabitants of this planet, the only way to save it for future generations is to cut down on plastic and demand the governments and companies do more to stop its spread.