Plastic rubbish from the UK is accumulating in the Arctic and damaging one of the most fragile and remote ecosystems on Earth, say scientists.

Researchers tracked the waste trail as the plastic was flushed into the sea from British coastlines.

They found that rather than washing back up on beaches or sinking to the ocean floor, much of it spent two years drifting towards the Barents Sea north of Norway before ending up in the Arctic.

Lead researcher Dr Erik van Sebille, from Imperial College London, said: "We're only just beginning to understand the effect that plastic waste has on the fragile Arctic ecosystem, but we know enough about the damage done by oceanic plastic pollution to act and reduce its impact on our oceans and coastlines.

"From seabirds caught in loops of plastic packaging to polystyrene particles blocking the digestive systems of fish, plastic causes a continuous path of destruction from surface to sea floor. This analysis shows how in the UK we're part of the problem.

"It would be impossible to ban plastic, and undesirable as it is, it's a useful material that offers many benefits. We should instead have a holistic approach to improving the situation, including social and behavioural, chemical and engineering solutions - aiming to minimise the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and make sure it degrades quickly and safely if it does."

The team's findings are on show at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in London this week.

Millions of tonnes of plastic are washed into the ocean each year. In 2010 an estimated 4.7 million to 12.7 million tonnes entered oceans around the world.

Plastic flushed into the sea has a wide range of sources, including storm water discharges, poorly filtered waste water, sewage overflows due to heavy rain, illegal dumping, industry and litter dropped on beaches.

Once at sea, wind and ocean currents can transport the rubbish across the globe.

The action of sunlight and waves also degrades plastics, breaking them down into microscopic pieces that can be ingested by marine animals.

Of all the plastic that has ever entered the ocean, it is estimated that just 1% - between 7,000 and 236,000 tonnes - is floating on the surface. The rest sits below the surface, on beaches, or in the stomachs of fish and crustaceans.

In 2014, global plastic production increased by 4%, rising to 311 megatonnes, 40% of which was used for packaging.

Britain is one of the biggest users of the material in Europe and accounts for 7.7% of the plastic demand of the 28 EU countries.