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Yoga pants in society have been seen as many things, for some they are relaxed easy-wear for every occasion, for some they are an oogle point, and now for environmentalist… they may be becoming the enemy.
Yoga pants are emerging as a source of plastic that’s increasingly ending up in the oceans and potentially contaminating seafood, according to Gulf Coast researchers launching a two-year study of microscopic plastics in the waters from south Texas to the Florida Keys, reports US News.
Led by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the project will depend on volunteers participating in coastal cleanup events. It utilizes a year’s worth of data, collected around Florida, that predominantly found microfibers — shreds of plastic even smaller than microbeads flowing down bathroom sinks and shower drains, said US News.
The report explained that yoga pants, Patagonia jackets, sweat-wicking materials and synthetic materials shed microscopic plastic fibers — called “microfibers” — when they’re laundered. Then, as the water is returned through waste ways, they are deposited into the ocean.
“Anything that’s nylon or polyester, like the fleece-type jackets,” University of Florida researcher Maia McGuire told US News.
McGuire admitted that she did not expect to find “microfibers” to be the leading pollutant, rather she expected that to be “microbeads,” which are the brightly colored plastic spheres the U.S. government banned from rinse-off cosmetic products in 2015 because of the potential threat to fish and other wildlife, explained US News.
From US News:
Studies of the Great Lakes and New York Harbor and its surrounding waterways found high concentrations of plastics pollution, including microbeads. McGuire’s data from Florida waters, compiled from 1-liter samples run through filters fine enough to catch microfibers missed by the trawls used in the larger studies, adds to the growing amount of research focused on plastic pieces that degrade but never really disappear.
Other recent studies have shown that microfibers can end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including seafood, like oysters. Experts increasingly suggest that manufacturers of washing machines — not just body washes or other scrubbing detergents — may need to be targeted next in efforts to reduce plastic waste in the oceans.
“There hasn’t been a lot of baseline study covering microplastics, and the studies that have been done haven’t been as wide-reaching,” Caitlin Wessel, regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program told US News. “We’re hoping to use the data as a baseline but also find sources of microplastics and find out what types of microplastics are the biggest issue in the Gulf.”
The effects of microfibers in the food chain remain under investigation, says US News, but companies such as Patagonia are supporting the research into the prevalence of microfiber pollution and promote information for consumers about ways to minimize microfiber shedding in laundry.
“It would be really great if the washing machine companies would get on board and come up with a filter to trap these microfibers,” Wessel explained to US News. “I think there’s a big push right now — nobody really disagrees that marine debris is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
US News further explained the data found in McGuire’s Florida Microplastic Awareness Project from September 2015 to August 2016:
McGuire’s Florida Microplastic Awareness Project from September 2015 to August 2016 analyzed samples collected by volunteers from 256 sites around the state’s peninsula and the Florida Keys. Eighty-nine percent contained at least one piece of plastic.
Microfibers comprised the vast majority of plastic found — 82 percent. Only 7 percent were the microbeads in personal products targeted by the federal ban, which doesn’t limit the use of the same plastic spheres in other products.
According to US News, another study, run by Sarah Egner, director of research and curriculum development at MarineLab in Key Largo, returned very similar results to that of McGuire’s.
Both researchers have made a commitment to reduce their use of synthetic materials to diminish their impact on this environmental effect.