A recent study of the ocean debris has discovered that plastic pollution in the oceans is dominated by a new form: plastic microfibers. The study, entitled Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, found that 82 percent of the plastic recovered from the ocean was in the form of plastic microfibers which are even smaller than plastic microbeads of which commercial production was banned in 2016. One of the biggest contributors to this ocean pollution? Yoga pants.
FMAP sampled ocean debris at 256 sites in and around Florida, USA, and discovered that 89% of the samples contained at least one piece of plastic. Of the plastic recovered from the ocean, only seven percent was found to be in the form of plastic microbeads. Plastic microfibers are now the key plastic pollutant in the oceans, as reported by the Daily Mail.
Where do these plastic microfibers come from? Yoga pants, and all other synthetic fabric clothing.
Every time a garment made from nylon, polyester, or other moisture-wicking synthetic materials is washed, the garment sheds plastic microfibers. On average, one washing of a single synthetic garment releases 1,900 microfibers. These are too small to be filtered out by washing machine filters, so they ride out with the wastewater then make their way into the seas. There, they end up being ingested by marine life, including such seafood as oysters and fish. This can be toxic for the sea life, and can lead to starvation due to obstructed digestive systems.
What can you do to help? Here are five tips on how you can save the oceans from your yoga pants and other sources of microplastics:
1. Remove plastic from your yoga pants and wardrobe. Wear all-natural fabrics.
Synthetic fabrics, especially the kind which wick the sweat off your skin, are the kind which release non-biodegradable plastic microfibers. These may include yoga pants made from recycled nylon fish nets, and from recycled PET bottles.
Buy clothing made from natural and organic fabrics like silk, cotton and wool. Natural fabrics are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial, good at thermal regulation, and breathable.
2. Remove plastic microbeads from your bathroom.
Toothpastes, facial washes and body washes used to use plastic microbeads to provide an exfoliating factor to the product. Most manufacturers have switched to natural exfoliants such as seed husks in accordance with the US federal ban, but check the label to be sure there is no polyethylene or polypropylene, the two most common types of plastic microbeads.
3. Remove disposable plastic from your bathroom too.
Secondary microplastics are when a large plastic product has begun to degrade so microplastic particles come off of it. These particles remain true to plastic nature, and so they cannot biodegrade and thus pollute the environment.
You can prevent secondary microplastics from getting into our oceans by reducing the number of plastic products you use. In the bathroom this can be done by replacing your plastic toothbrush with a wooden one. You can replace other items, such as your disposable razor with a straight razor, your plastic sanitary pads and tampons with organic ones or washable menstrual cups, your baby’s plastic diaper with a cloth one, etc.
4. Remove plastic from your kitchen.
The majority of a household’s plastic waste comes from the kitchen. One of the best ways to reduce plastic kitchen waste is to avoid plastic food storage (zipper bags, plastic wrap, etc.) and use glass or ceramic containers instead. But more than limiting the use of plastic in your kitchen, it’s more about limiting the plastic you bring into it, which leads to…
5. Avoid plastic when you buy food or drink.
Our consumables are the main culprit behind plastic waste. Here are some ways you can enjoy your food and drink without the guilt of increasing plastic waste:
- Shop in bulk. The smaller the food package, the sooner it ends up in the bin, the more waste builds up.
- Like in your fridge, glass jars will help you avoid plastic packaging when you do your grocery shopping.
- Bring eco-bags whenever you do grocery shopping.
- Bring a thermos to your coffee shop or cafe, instead of getting a to-go cup. Many places even offer discounts to customers who do this.
- Do not use straws. They’re normally not necessary at all.