The amount of plastic waste found on beaches around Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands is similar to that in industrialised waterways such as the Clyde and Firth of Forth, research has shown.
Sediment samples show similar levels of microplastics were found in the northern body of water, despite its remoteness and Orkney’s small population, according to The Herald.
The findings are based on work by scientists from Heriot-Watt University and Orkney Islands Council, who took more than 100 sediment samples from 13 locations around Scapa Flow.
These were then compared to samples from the highly populated areas of the Clyde and Firth of Forth.
The results showed that microplastics - tiny fragments of plastic from objects such as bags and clothing - were present in all 13 samples.
Conservationists have voiced alarm, describing the research as “deeply concerning”.
The findings come after UK ministers announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at banning the sale and manufacture of type of microplastic called microbeads.
The Scottish Government wants to outlaw plastic cotton buds, while Western Isles Council is bidding to get rid of plastic straws.
Commenting on the research, Dr Mark Hartl, associate professor of marine biology at Heriot-Watt, said: “The fact a relatively remote island has similar microplastic levels to some of the UK’s most industrialised waterways was unexpected, and points to the ubiquitous nature of microplastics in our water systems.”
He called for a baseline record for all of the UK’s waters so that the impact of government policies that aim to reduce marine pollution can be assessed.
Dr Hartl added: “The growing amount of data regarding plastic litter contamination in the marine environment has led to the need for understanding the related risks not only to the health of marine life, but to humans as well - microplastics are working their way into our food chain.”
Orkney Island Council said it would routinely test for microplastics during its annual shore monitoring programme.
Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns, said: “This research illustrates the plastic pollution epidemic that we’ve got ourselves into.
“It is vital we change our attitude towards using and throwing away valuable resources if we are to reduce the damage we are wreaking on the our marine environment. Plastics are often only used for only a few minutes yet remain in our environment for generations.
“There is real public appetite for action on plastic pollution and recent environmental wins on plastic bags and cotton buds show real change is achievable.”