Hate To Break It to You, But Your Clothes Are Polluting the Ocean

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You probably know there's a plastic problem in the world's oceans. Estimates put the total weight of ocean plastic at millions of tons. Most of us try to do our part to cut down on the mess, perhaps by bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and toting your own water bottle instead of buying a disposable plastic one. Luckily, there are ways to help, and a pair of surfers is leading the way.

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

Since humans started creating plastic on a large scale, we've cranked out 8.3 billion metric tons of it. By 2050, that number will be 12 billion metric tons (that's the weight of 35,000 Empire State Buildings). By that same year, it's estimated 99 percent of all sea birds will have eaten plastic at least once.

The problem with plastic is that the huge majority ends up as waste. Of the plastic we've thrown away, only nine percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that in 2010 alone, 8 million metric tons of plastic ended up in the ocean. Currently, plastic kills more than 100,000 sea turtles and sea birds every year when they eat it or get tangled in it.

One of the companies leading the charge to save the seas is 4Ocean. It started when two surfers took matters into their own hands, pulling trash off the ocean floor. Now, it organizes regular coastal and ocean cleanups that remove plastic and other trash from global waterways.

If you'd like to help, pick up on of their beaded bracelets made from recycled glass and plastic bottles. Every bracelet you buy funds the removal of one pound of trash from the ocean. Since January 2017, the company has hauled more than 80,500 pounds of trash from the water. That's nearly the weight of 2,684 cinder blocks. Sure, you could try hauling that out on your own, but it's simpler to support the cause.

Fish 'n' Polyester

Beyond the big trash, you may be contributing to pollution with every load of laundry. Every time you wash synthetic clothing — think polyester, nylon, and acrylic — microscopic fibers shed from the fabric, travel out with the wastewater from your washing machine, and into public waterways. According to Mermaids, a European project aiming to fix this problem, a single fleece jacket releases nearly a million fibers every time it's washed.

A 2016 study found that wastewater treatment plants release 56 million particles of microplastics into the San Francisco Bay every day, and most of them are microfibers. Think about that: facilities that thoroughly filter and treat wastewater to make it safe to put back into the environment still can't prevent microfibers from being released into the oceans. Researchers have found these microfibers everywhere from the ocean's surface to deep-sea sediments to aquatic animals themselves. Around 65 percent of shrimp in the North Sea, for example, contain synthetic fibers. That means that the fibers in your clothes are ending up on your plate.

What Can Be Done?

Ecological organizations are pushing hard to get the apparel industry to tackle the problem by creating fabrics that shed less, but so far companies have been dragging their feet. But consumers can do their part, too. Try washing large loads to reduce the amount of friction between clothes, and using liquid detergent and fabric softener instead of powder. You can also avoid the problem altogether by opting for clothes made of natural fabrics like cotton and wool.

Saving the Planet with 4Ocean

Written by Curiosity Staff July 19, 2017
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