A study conducted by the University College Dublin discovered tiny microscopic particles of plastic are actually littering oceans and beaches worldwide.
So, where is all of this plastic coming from? One major source is our clothing and other household textiles.
Take a good look at your dryer lint trap because it's a pretty good indication of just how much plastic pollution you're contributing to our oceans.
"It's shedding little bitty particles constantly, it's all over the environment," said Larry Cahoon, a professor of biology and marine biology at UNC-Wilmington.
The rinse cycle that rids your clothing of dirt is also ripping off microscopic clothing fibers.
In one study, a single fleece garment put through a wash cycle shed nearly 2,000 fibers. Those fibers travel from your household washing machine to our waterways which, eventually, make their way to our oceans.
Scientists who study our waters find particles of clothing all the time under the microscope inside the bodies of marine life like plankton.
"What you'll find is these fibers, different unnatural colors and it's just clothing fibers," Cahoon said.
Usually blue and green in color, these polyester and acrylic fibers are made of plastic.
"We think of plastics as inert, you know, harmless, but it isn't clear that's true," Cahoon noted.
Once these microscopic particles of plastic make their way to our oceans, they become porous similar to a sponge.
If you need proof, think about how easy it is for tomato sauce to stain the plastic containers in your kitchen.
Scientists worry these microscopic plastic fibers are sopping up harmful chemicals like pesticides.
Once these fibers are consumed by fish, plankton, mussels, or sent back into our drinking water supply, both plastics and pollutants enter the food chain and could, potentially, end up on your dinner plate.
For now, there is no direct evidence proving these fibers actually harm marine or human life.
"The assumption that out-of-sight, out-of-mind means no problem, is often wrong," Cahoon said.
He recommends paying attention to how much lint you pull out of the filter of your own dryer.
The more fuzz in the dryer usually means there's far more breaking down in the washer.
Loosely-woven fleece falls apart faster. You can buy higher-grade or natural fabrics which hold together longer or try a gentle wash cycle that uses less agitation.
All of which are things you might want to consider the next time you do your laundry, or go to the mall shopping for new clothes.
It's quite alarming when you think about how just a small amount of lint can leave a brightly-colored polyester imprint on the planet.
The following information is from a ScienceNOW article entitled, "Laundry Lint Pollutes World's Oceans."<http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/10/laundry-lint-pollutes-the-worlds.hhtml?ref=hp>
- There's dryer lint (obvious, easy to clean) and washer lint.
- Nearly 2,000 polyester fibers can float away from a single fleece sweater in one wash cycle.
- Studies of sand samples found in each cup of sand, at least two fibers and as many as 31. All samples contained synthetic lint.
- Synthetic lint was common in both treated wastewater and in ocean sediments where sewage sludge was dumped.
- The fibers were mainly polyester and acrylic.
- Scientists have found microplastics able to absorb pollutants like DDT.
- Filter-feeding mussels can consume the particles. The worry is that the fibers will then end up on our dinner plates.
- There is no direct evidence that the fibers harm marine life, yet.
- Textile, washing machine manufacturers, and sewage treatment plants could help look for ways to keep the fibers out of the ocean
- Manufacturers are not required to test fabrics for their environmental impact, durability or plastic-shedding potential.
- More than 65% of plastic in the ocean is in bits that are less than a millimeter thick.
- Studies on artificial joints and plastic-based drug delivery devices have shown that small pieces of plastic can infiltrate joints and even the circulatory system.
- Experiments on muscles have shown similar effects. When cells take up plastic they seem to have trouble functioning.
- Research done by Mark Browne, an ecologist at University College Dublin, tested 18 shoreline samples on six continents.
- Concentrations of microplastics where highest in the most densely populated countries.
- In another of Browne's studies, researchers found a single wash cycle of a fleece garment could shed more than 1,900 fibers.