Microfiber Pollution Threatening Great Lakes Ecosystem

By JoshMogerman in News on Jan 11, 2015 9:00PM

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Paired (Explored) [Jobet Palmaira]

Your obsession with cleanliness is really doing a number on Lake Michigan.

First, it was your face.

All those gritty cleansers folks have been using are washing teeny-tiny plastic microbeads into the Great Lakes. The little buggers are not breaking down and have started doing all sorts of mischief to the ecosystem.

Now, it’s your laundry.

Well, really, the stuff you are laundering. Researchers have identified a new issue coming off our clothes and wipes—microfibers. The even teenier-tinier little strings are so small we cannot see them with the naked eye. But that doesn’t mean the tiny petroleum-based strands are not a menace. They are washing into the Great Lakes at such high volume that they now represent 4 percent of the garbage in our inland seas—and there’s a lot of garbage floating around there.

The issue is even worse in our neck of the woods. Researchers recently evaluated material pulled from the southern end of Lake Michigan and found that microfibers represented 12 percent of what they found.

The tiny strings from materials like nylon and polyester are a big deal. While most fish and critters in the Lake end up eating those microbeads, they can pass them with some difficulty. Not so with the fibers, which seem to entangle fish bowels.

While there is a movement afoot to eliminate mircrobeads from the products we buy—helped along by the Illinois General Assembly, which made this state the first to outlaw them—it is going to be a lot harder to address the filaments from your fleece.

So, for the Lake’s sake, let’s keep it a little dirty Chicago. Ease back on the scrubbing and laundering while this thing gets sorted—or stay warm with wool and other natural full-sized fibers!