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CALIFORNIA – Plastic pollution has been found to be entering the fossil record – and synthetic microfibres from clothing are largely to blame. New research shows the amount of microscopic plastics found in sediments has doubled every 15 years since the 1940s. Most of the plastic particles found in the study were from synthetic fibres used in clothing which, said the researchers, suggested these microfibres have been freely floating into the ocean via wastewater. The findings, which have prompted the researchers to suggest we have now entered the ‘plastic age’, will once again place the spotlight on the issue of microfibre shedding from synthetic clothing.

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Looking at the rise in plastic pollution in sediments, and focusing on annual layers off the coast of California dating back to 1834, researchers found that the plastic in the layers mirrors very closely the rise in plastic production over the past 70 years.

The research was published in the Journal Science Advances. The study found that two thirds of the particles were plastic fibres, a fifth were broken-down fragments of other plastic and a 10th were plastic film. “It is a very clear signature,” said Jennifer Brandon, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, who led the study. “Plastic was invented and pretty much immediately we can see it appear in the sedimentary record.”

Brandon also bemoaned the issue of microfibre shedding from synthetic clothing. Tests have shown that a single clothing wash can release hundred of thousands of microplastic fibres, which leach into waterways and – as this study proves – find their way deep into sediments.

“There’s just this steady onslaught of microfibres reaching the bottom of the ocean,” added Brandon. “Microfibres for a tiny animal like plankton can act like a rope would for us—they can entangle them, they can get caught in their guts, they can kind of pinch their limbs.”

More on this in our next printed magazine.

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