When you snuggle up on your couch in a warm, fuzzy blanket, you're probably not thinking about how much lint from that fabric could be contributing to environmental pollution.
A study conducted by the University College Dublin discovered tiny microscopic particles of plastic are actually littering oceans and beaches worldwide.
So, where is all of this plastic coming from? One major source is our clothing and other household textiles.
Take a good look at your dryer lint trap because it's a pretty good indication of just how much plastic pollution you're contributing to our oceans.
"It's shedding little bitty particles constantly, it's all over the environment," said Larry Cahoon, a professor of biology and marine biology at UNC-Wilmington.
The rinse cycle that rids your clothing of dirt is also ripping off microscopic clothing fibers.
In one study, a single fleece garment put through a wash cycle shed nearly 2,000 fibers. Those fibers travel from your household washing machine to our waterways which, eventually, make their way to our oceans.
Scientists who study our waters find particles of clothing all the time under the microscope inside the bodies of marine life like plankton.
"What you'll find is these fibers, different unnatural colors and it's just clothing fibers," Cahoon said.
Usually blue and green in color, these polyester and acrylic fibers are made of plastic.
"We think of plastics as inert, you know, harmless, but it isn't clear that's true," Cahoon noted.
Once these microscopic particles of plastic make their way to our oceans, they become porous similar to a sponge.
If you need proof, think about how easy it is for tomato sauce to stain the plastic containers in your kitchen.
Scientists worry these microscopic plastic fibers are sopping up harmful chemicals like pesticides.
Once these fibers are consumed by fish, plankton, mussels, or sent back into our drinking water supply, both plastics and pollutants enter the food chain and could, potentially, end up on your dinner plate.
For now, there is no direct evidence proving these fibers actually harm marine or human life.
"The assumption that out-of-sight, out-of-mind means no problem, is often wrong," Cahoon said.
He recommends paying attention to how much lint you pull out of the filter of your own dryer.
The more fuzz in the dryer usually means there's far more breaking down in the washer.
Loosely-woven fleece falls apart faster. You can buy higher-grade or natural fabrics which hold together longer or try a gentle wash cycle that uses less agitation.
All of which are things you might want to consider the next time you do your laundry, or go to the mall shopping for new clothes.
It's quite alarming when you think about how just a small amount of lint can leave a brightly-colored polyester imprint on the planet.
The following information is from a ScienceNOW article entitled, "Laundry Lint Pollutes World's Oceans."<http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/10/laundry-lint-pollutes-the-worlds.hhtml?ref=hp>
The following information is from a DiscoveryNews article entitled, "From the Wash to the Ocean." <http://news.discovery.com/earth/washing-machine-pollutes-111024.html>
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