Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Study Finds Synthetic Clothes Contributed 4,000 Metric Tons of Plastic Microfibers in California

Study Finds Synthetic Clothes Contributed 4,000 Metric Tons of Plastic Microfibers in California
These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed. Cris Cantón / Getty Images
A new study from the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that synthetic clothes released about 4,000 metric tons of plastic microfibers into California's environment in 2019.

For context, that's about 80 million plastic rubber ducks in California, or 130,000 times as many stars as there are in the Milky Way galaxy, The Guardian reported. The Guardian received exclusive access to this study, although it has not been peer-reviewed or published.

These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed, including "yoga pants, stretchy jeans and fleece jackets" the Guardian reported.

To determine how many microfibers are shed in a given year, researchers calculated how many synthetic materials consumers bought with how many loads of laundry people did. The data also calculated how many microfibers were released in each wash. Researchers combined those numbers with public data on sludge and wastewater management in California to reach 4,000 metric tons. These microfibers then make their way into the state's water and land, The Guardian reported.

Those numbers might alarm consumers. According to The New York Post, a recent study in PLoS One found that the average person inadvertently consumes more than 5,800 microfiber particles — every year.

While wastewater plants have the ability to prevent microfibers from entering waterways, they are ultimately delaying the process. Wastewater treatment facilities tend to combine what they capture with treated sewage, which is eventually spread on agricultural fields. The microfibers then run off back into the waterways, The Guardian reported.

"So we're changing it from an ocean problem to a land problem," Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at UC Santa Barbara who collaborated on the report, told The Guardian. "Rather than removing the fibers, we've just moved their location."

Studies that quantify microplastics in the environment help play a vital role in regulating them. For example, Politico reported that California's State Water Resources Control Board recently approved a decision to make it the first state to define microplastics. The board will propose testing methods by July 2021; it will require water suppliers to report their microplastic levels for four years once a testing protocol is agreed upon.

Global production of synthetic fibers around the world is predicted to triple by 2050, The New York Post reported.

A group of climate activists that have been cycling from the North of the country in stages to draw attention to the climate case are arriving to the Court of Justice on the day that the climate lawsuit against Shell starts in The Hague, on December 1st, 2020. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Representing more than 17,000 claimants who support climate action, the international organization Friends of the Earth on Tuesday opened its case against fossil fuel giant Shell at The Hague by demanding that a judge order the corporation to significantly reduce its carbon emissions in the next decade.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Eat Just, Inc. announced that its cultured chicken has been approved for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in chicken bites. The company has developed other cultured chicken formats as well. Eat Just

As concern mounts over the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, Singapore has issued the world's first regulatory approval for lab-grown meat.

Read More Show Less


Wildfires are seen burning out of control on November 30, 2020 on Fraser Island, Australia. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services / Getty Images

The world's largest sand island has been on fire for the past six weeks due to a campfire, and Australia's firefighters have yet to prevent flames from destroying the fragile ecosystem.

Read More Show Less
A plane sprays pesticide over the Wynwood neighborhood in the hope of controlling and reducing the number of mosquitos, some of which may be capable of spreading the Zika virus on Aug. 6, 2016 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A national nonprofit revealed Tuesday that testing commissioned by the group as well as separate analysis conducted by Massachusetts officials show samples of an aerially sprayed pesticide used by the commonwealth and at least 25 other states to control mosquito-borne illnesses contain toxic substances that critics call "forever chemicals."

Read More Show Less
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern plants a tree as part of Trees That Count, a project to help New Zealand make a positive impact on climate change, on June 30, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

The government of New Zealand declared a climate emergency on Wednesday, a symbolic step recognizing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions of substantial global warming if emissions do not fall.

Read More Show Less