Did Your Yoga Pants Cause Sea Pollution?
Researchers say cozy clothes are emerging as a source of plastic that's increasingly ending up in oceans and possibly contaminating seafood.
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.
Instead, McGuire predominantly found microfibers, even smaller than microbeads and coming from places most people don't consider dangerous to marine life: their closets.
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.