Turns out that the plastic pollution problem in the world's oceans is not just a result of improper or irresponsible disposal of our waste: Some of the plastic collecting in the oceans is coming directly from our washing machines.
A story in Environmental Science and Technology presents research showing that micrometer-size fragments of plastics have contaminated the shorelines at 18 sites around the world, from the poles to the equator, with greater levels of contamination in densely populated areas.
The contamination is traced to "sewage contaminated by fibers from washing clothes," and the fibers are plastics used in clothing materials so many people wear every day: Acrylic, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyamide and polyester.
More from Environmental Science and Technology:
Experiments sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines demonstrated that a single garment can produce >1900 fibers per wash. This suggests that a large proportion of microplastic fibers found in the marine environment may be derived from sewage as a consequence of washing of clothes. As the human population grows and people use more synthetic textiles, contamination of habitats and animals by microplastic is likely to increase.
Put more simply, from the New York Times, "Examining washing-machine waste water, they found that 1900 fibers can rinse off a single garment during a wash cycle and that those fibers look just like the microplastic debris on shorelines. As the human population increases, they say, the problem is likely grow."