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Nearly 75% of the Arctic’s Microplastic Pollution Comes From Clothing: Study

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Jan 14, 2021

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Image Credit: WWF

73% of synthetic fibers polluting the Arctic are polyester and resemble those from clothing, a new study has found.

“What you and I wear, how we wash our clothes, and what we buy at the clothing store is really having profound consequences for an area, many thousands of kilometers from our communities. … The more we look, the more we realize just how we have contaminated the farthest corners of the planet with microplastics,” Peter Ross, adjunct professor at University of British Columbia’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the study, told The Verge.

Published this week in Nature Communications, the study analyzed seawater samples from 71 locations across the Arctic using microscopy and infrared analysis to identify and measure the microplastics.

The researchers noted that while the process by which fibers from our clothes reach the Arctic Ocean remains unclear, ocean currents and atmospheric systems may have a major role to play in their transportation.


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Every time we run a washing machine, hundreds of thousands of microplastics can make their way into the environment through wastewater. To prevent this from happening, the researchers advocated for sustainable fabrics that shed fewer fibers when they’re washed, adding that it could make a huge difference.

Experts also suggest that introducing laundry filters and microfiber catchers to washing machines could catch and prevent the synthetic fibers from making their way into the oceans. In fact, some scientists even started an online petition last year to make fiber-catching devices in washing machines mandatory by 2024.

Irrespective of the mechanism we choose to tackle this problem, experts argue that urgent intervention is needed. “If we are finding microplastics and especially fibrous microplastics in waters of this seemingly pristine location, that emphasizes to us that we need to take action on land,” La Daana Kanhai, a marine scientist at the University of the West Indies, who wasn’t involved in the study, told The Verge.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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