A new study shows that jeans are releasing up to 56,000 denim microfibers per wash into lakes and oceans. The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters found that denim microfibers have infiltrated waters all the way from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. The study was conducted to show the extent of human-caused pollution.
“It’s not an indictment of jeans — I want to be really clear that we’re not coming down on jeans,” said Miriam Diamond, environmental scientist at the University of Toronto and one of the authors of the study.
Scientists and environmentalists have known for some time that microplastics from synthetic clothing find their way into the oceans. One study estimates that about two trucks’ worth of microplastics drain into waters around Europe via wastewater from washing machines every day. Scientists have found microfibers in the stomachs of marine creatures, although the impact of these tiny plastic particles is still unknown.
Much of the world is wearing denim at any given moment. To determine the effect of this popular garment, scientists carried out research on lake and ocean waters. The research looked at samples of water collected from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, suburban lakes around Toronto and the Great Lakes. According to the American Chemical Society, the samples tested revealed that the lakes near Toronto had the lowest percentage of denim microfibers at 12%. The Arctic waters had 20% denim microfiber pollution, while the Great Lakes had 23%. The researchers also found that new jeans release more microfibers — up to 56,000 denim microfibers — per wash than used jeans.
“They’re called ‘natural’ textile fibers,” Sam Athey, coauthor of the study, explained. “I’m doing air quotes around ‘natural’ because they contain these chemical additives. They also pick up chemicals from the environment, when you’re wearing your clothes, when they’re in the closet.”
The impact of denim microfibers on the environment requires more research, but the study authors recommend buying used jeans, installing a filter on your washer and washing denim less frequently to cut back on the amount of microfibers released into waterways.
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