Your Yoga Pants Are Polluting The Oceans

Here’s something to meditate about.

Yoga pants, and other clothes made from common synthetic materials, are causing the world’s oceans to fill up with minuscule pieces of plastic known as microfibers, according to a new study out of Florida.

The lead researcher on the project says she was so thrown off by the unexpected findings that she can’t even accurately assess the types of risks such pollution poses at this point.

Nylon, acrylic, polyester and other materials ― which are used to make workout pants, tops, fleeces and other leisure clothing ― are all petroleum-based plastics. They’re spun into tiny threads and woven together to make fabric. When people clean these clothes in a washing machine, microfibers are released and end up in wastewater treatment plants. From there, they travel to rivers, lakes and oceans.

It’s hard to imagine that this could be a good thing. — Maia McGuire, University of Florida

The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project recently tested more than 950 water samples around the state, from the northeast in Jacksonville all the way down to the southern tip of Key West. Microfibers made up 83 percent of the plastics identified, more than any other type, according to Maia McGuire, sea grant extension agent at the University of Florida.

“There’s cause for concern, but we’re not exactly sure how much,” McGuire told The Huffington Post. “Should we be alarmed rather than concerned? It’s hard to imagine that this could be a good thing.”

For socially conscious consumers — those who might embrace a holistic lifestyle or shun plastic bottles, meat or fur— the report’s findings will likely be alarming.

While the exact risks associated with microfibers are unknown, animals are certainly consuming them. And they’re not always excreting these substances, McGuire noted. Research has shown that microfibers are getting embedded into the tissues of marine life.

“That’s a little more alarming than something that’s passing through the body,” McGuire said.

It’s also unclear how this might affect fish-eating humans.

Microfibers, and their prevalence in natural bodies of water, have been on the radar of marine biologists for some time. McGuire’s team was the first to delve into their presence – and effects – in Florida, specifically.

Last year researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara investigated the connection between washing machines and the release of microfibers. Their study, funded by apparel company Patagonia, found that when synthetic jackets are laundered, they release about 1.7 grams into the wash.[...]

While looking through a microscope, McGuire will often grab a microfiber with a tweezer. But when she removes her hand, she said she can no longer see the piece of material.

Determined to get an accurate reading of the plastics levels in Florida waters, McGuire and her volunteers used nets that could capture such microscopic materials. Still, McGuire said she was surprised to uncover such an overwhelming amount of microfibers.[...]

“A lot of people don’t think twice about what their clothes are made of,” McGuire said. “Even things you think are cotton, unless it’s 100 percent cotton, it’s probably a cotton blend. That means it has polyester mixed in there.”

She recommends looking for natural fabrics, including bamboo, linen and silk.

Putting synthetic clothing into a filter bag before washing can help reduce the flow of microfibers. Patagonia is currently working on a product called “Guppy Friend,” a bag for washing that traps microfibers and keeps them from entering the water system. [...]

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