Polar bears are eating plastic bags

Researchers found plastic in polar bear stomach contents. ©Arturo de Frias Marques

Polar bears are rummaging in dumps and ingesting plastic bags, according to new research. An analysis looking at the stomach content of 51 polar bears killed by subsistence hunters in the southern Beaufort Sea from 1996 to 2018 found that 25 percent had plastic in their stomachs. The plastic was mostly clear shopping bags and heavy-duty black garbage bags. Ingesting plastic can make polar bears irritable and aggressive, past research has shown, possibly due to painful blockages in their digestive system. Researchers said reducing waste is challenging in the North where the ground is frozen and it’s harder to manage garbage landfills. The researchers hope to explore whether plastic consumption has increased since the 1990s when the stomach surveys began.

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