When you put on your favourite fleece jacket, you probably never think about how it could be contributing to marine pollution.
Every time the garment is washed, about 2,000 fibres end up in the wastewater that’s produced. And because many sewage plants cannot filter these fibres, they become part of an increasingly serious microplastic pollution problem that’s affecting marine wildlife around the globe.
In Norway, for instance, it was recently reported that scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research had determined that outdoor clothing such as fleece jackets was the biggest source of the more than 100 million particles of microplastic being deposited via wastewater into the fiord at Longyearbyen, a community of 2,000 on the island of Svalbard.
Similar studies have been conducted in Canada at the Vancouver Aquarium.
“There have been very clear impacts on the wildlife,” said Peter Ross, director of the aquarium’s ocean pollution research program. “Microplastics have been known to affect the feeding, fitness, reproductive system and the growth of animals.”
In 2015, Ross and his team released a study that showed microplastics were widely distributed in British Columbia’s coastal waters, and that the tiny pieces of plastic less than five millimetres in size had entered the marine food chain through zooplankton, a vital source of food for fish and other marine mammal species.
The study took place in four major areas: the Strait of Georgia; the west coast of Vancouver Island; the north coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii; and offshore in the Pacific Ocean. The highest concentrations of microplastic were found in the Strait of Georgia.
“This basically told us that humans living in coastal environments are releasing thousands of microplastics through their laundry and waste water,” said Ross. “The problem is world-wide from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and it’s far more extensive than we imagined.”