Mar 19, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

Yoga Pants May Be Polluting the Oceans

Yoga pants have been blamed for a lot of things: distracting other students in yoga class, ruining the market for fashionable outfits, destroying the moral fabric of society. Now a new study is charging them with mass pollution of our oceans, lakes and rivers. What exactly are yoga pants wearers DOING in the water?

Yoga pants fans should address their hate mail to University of Florida researcher Maia McGuire. She runs the Microplastic Awareness Project (FMAP) under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Marine Debris Program. FMAP sends volunteers into Florida coastal waters to collect samples, check them for plastics and record the amount, size and type. In its first year (2015), the volunteers found at least one piece of plastic in 89 percent of the samples.

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Sarah Egner, director of curriculum development at Marinelab in Key Largo, Fla., takes a water sample to check for the presence of microscopic plastics

Knowing what we know about the amount of plastic in the ocean, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, finding that much plastic off the coast of Florida was no surprise to McGuire. What shocked her was the large amount of one type of plastic. She expected it to be microbeads, those tiny plastic balls that were in so many toothpastes, body washes and other products until they were banned in 2015. Far outnumbering the microbeads in the samples were plastic microfibers found in fleece jackets, polyester products and those ubiquitous yoga pants.

Are yoga pants-wearing women swimming in the ocean after attending yoga class or shopping at the grocery store? That would be an easy problem to solve. These microplastic fibers are being stripped off of the clothing by that sock-eating monster of the laundry room – the washing machine. It’s estimated that one wash cycle can remove 1,900 microplastic fibers from a single garment. Those fibers go down the drain, through the wastewater systems and end up in the oceans, lakes and streams.

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Plastic microfiber (left) magnified in a water sample

Well, for a time. Eventually they end up in fish and other marine animals. Those that don’t die from ingesting plastics (and some that do) eventually end up in other animals and humans. If you’re thinkng “It’s just tiny fibers,” all of those microfibers add up. It’s estimated that by year 2050, there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the ocean.

That estimate comes from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, which is using McGuire’s data to organize coastal cleanup events. It is also pushing washing machine makers to develop filters that can catch microplastic fibers at the source. And finally, it’s promoting alternatives to plastic-based and polyester clothing.

Are cotton yoga pants really that uncomfortable or unflattering? Maybe it’s time to suck it up and switch for the fish.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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