Comfortable clothes 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.
The project, led by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will rely partly on volunteers participating in coastal cleanup events. It also will expand a year’s worth of data collected around the state of Florida that predominantly found microfibers – shreds of plastic even smaller than microbeads flowing down bathroom sinks and shower drains.
Yoga pants, Patagonia’s cozy jackets, sweat-wicking athletic wear and other garments made from synthetic materials shed microscopic plastic fibers – called “microfibers” – when they’re laundered. Wastewater systems flush the microfibers into natural waterways, eventually reaching the sea.
“Anything that’s nylon or polyester, like the fleece-type jackets,” University of Florida researcher Maia McGuire said.
When McGuire set out to study the kinds of plastic found in Florida waters, she expected to mostly find microbeads – 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.
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