Plastic pollution is all over the world. You can find it at the top of Everest and in nearly every crevice of the globe, all the way down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. But there’s a new and rather significant news flash—plastic is in you, too. A recent study says that you’re eating about a credit card’s worth of plastic—every week.
While you’re not cutting up large pieces of plastic on your dinner plate, your ingesting it at the microscopic level, in the form of microplastics. Microplastics are any plastic fragments less than 5mm in length, and they work their way into our water supplies, oceans, and even the air we breathe.
The biggest sources of the microplastic problem infiltrate our systems through bottled and tap water, but beer, salt, sugar, and shellfish have shown to possess large quantities of microplastics, too. What’s worse is that these tiny particles in our water supply are even carried to agriculture, where they seep into vegetables and even meats we consume.
But how are microplastics getting into our water in the first place? The answer lies in your closet.
The Answer to the Microplastics Problem is Our Clothing
Sixty percent of the materials in our clothes are synthetic fibers—stuff like polyester, rayon, nylon, and more. But most people don’t realize that synthetic fibers are actually a form of plastic.
Synthetic fibers are a favorite for fast fashion because they’re extremely cheap and pretty versatile. But the cost cut creates a big problem for the environment.
A recent 12-month study at the University of Plymouth found that every load in a washing machine could potentially unleash 700,000 microplastic fibers into the environment. These fibers make their way into our food and water systems, contaminating fish and wildlife, and eventually returning to us as we simply drink water and pause for lunch.
The implications for humans haven’t quite been determined, but scientists know that many plastic microparticles attract and absorb other pollutants—some of which can cause cancer, birth defects, brain development issues, and more. While more studies are being done to determine the implications, we know that they are, in fact, in us. “Not only are plastics polluting our oceans and waterways and killing marine life – it’s in all of us and we can’t escape consuming plastics,” remarked Marco Lambertini of the World Wildlife Fund, which commissioned the study on the consumption of microplastics.
What Can We Do?
Now that we know that a ton of plastics is being shed from our clothing, what can we do? The first step is to buy natural, organic clothing free of non-biodegradable fibers. Avoid fast fashion full of synthetic fibers, and make more mindful purchases.
Even though consuming plastic is unavoidable, we can all do our part to shop mindfully and prevent plastic from harming our environment—and potentially, us.