Connecting the Threads: A Microfibers Research Guide

We’re delighted that you’re interested in our new movie on plastic microfibers! We’ve compiled a few resources to help you learn more about this issue. Please note that while our staff did not participate in these research efforts ourselves, we stand behind their respective findings.

The research presented in these papers shows that estimated 1.4 million trillion plastic microfibers are a huge problem–both for our oceans and marine biodiversity as well as for our own bodies. Microfibers and other small forms of plastic pollution absorb toxins found in the ocean, and some are consumed by microorganisms such as plankton. As these fibers move up the food chain, the toxins that have been absorbed bioaccumulate. Ultimately, microfibers can be ingested by humans when they eat seafood.

As individuals, we cannot solve the problem of plastic microfibers on our own. It will take the ingenuity of stakeholders, from scientists to engineers to clothing designers, to come up with a real solution.

Jump to source:

1. Bain, Marc. If your clothes aren’t already made of plastic, they will be. Quartz. June 5, 2015.

“There are a number of synthetic options, such as rayon and nylon, but the preferred alternative—because it’s cheap—is polyester. Tecnon Orbichem estimates that more than 98% (pdf) of future fiber production will be synthetics, and 95% of that synthetic fiber will be polyester.”

2. Boucher, J. & Friot, D. (2017). Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: a Global Evaluation of Sources. International Union for Conservation in Nature. 43pp. doi: 10.2305.

“Close to two-thirds (63.1%) of the releases [of microfibers into the ocean] are due to first the laundry of synthetic textiles (34.8%), and second to the erosion of tyres while driving (28.3%).”

3. Browne, Mark Anthony. Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Woldwide: Sources and Sinks. Environmental Science & Technology. 2011. 45 (21), pp 9175–9179.

“Ingestion of microplastic provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers, and plastic-additives to organisms with uncertain consequences for their health.”

4. Bruce, N., et al. (2016) Microfiber Masses Recovered from Conventional Machine Washing of New or Aged Garments. Environmental Science and Technology, 50 (21). doi: 10.1021

“During our wash trials, microfiber shedding per jacket ranged between 160 mg to 2,700 mg per wash which equates to approximately 8,500-250,000.”


5. Carmicheal, Alasdair. Man-Made Fibers Continue To Grow. Textile World. February 3, 2015.

“[The man-made fiber industry] recorded demand in 2014 of 55.2 million tons (122 billion pounds) of synthetic fiber, in addition to man-made cellulosic fiber demand of 5.2 million tons. The natural fiber industry, including cotton and wool, has a demand of 25.4 million tons.”

6. Gusmão, F., et al. (2016). In situ ingestion of microfibers by meiofauna from sandy beaches. Environmental Pollution, 216, 584-590. doi:10.1016.

“Although microfibres are rapidly egested with no apparent harm, there is still the potential for trophic transfer into marine food webs through predation of Saccocirrus.”

7. Leonard, George H. Oceans, Microfibers and the Outdoor Industry: A Leadership Opportunity. Presentation to Outdoor Industry Association. August 3, 2016.

“Extrapolated: may be 1.4 million trillion microfibers on seafloor”

8. Maria, P., et al. (2014). Study Concerning the Pollution of the Marine Habitats with the Microplastic FibresJournal of environmental protection and ecology, 15(3), 916-923.

“Plastic particles absorb the persistent organic pollutants from the sea and after their assimilation; they transfer the toxic substances in the bodies of the sea animals, causing serious troubles in their growth or reproduction processes.”

9. Mathalon, A. & Hill, P. (2014). Microplastic fibers in the intertidal ecosystem surrounding Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 81, 69–79.

“The average microplastic abundance observed from 10 g sediment subsamples was between 20 and 80 fibers, with higher concentrations at the high tide line from the exposed beach and at the low tide line from the protected beaches.”

10. Messinger, Leah. How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply. The Guardian. June 20, 2016.

“New studies indicate that the fibers in our clothes could be poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. Microfibers – tiny threads shed from fabric – have been found in abundance on shorelines where waste water is released.”

11. Murphy, F., et al. (2016). Wastewater Treatment Works as a Source of Microplastic in the Aquatic Environment. Environmental Science & Technology 50, 5800−5808. doi: 10.1021.

“Even a small amount of microplastic being released per liter can result in significant amounts of microplastics entering the environment due to the large volumes being treated.”

12. O’Connor, Mary Catherine. Patagonia’s New Study Finds Fleece Jackets Are a Serious Pollutant. Outside Magazine. June 20, 2016.

“Based on an estimate of consumers across the world laundering 100,000 Patagonia jackets each year, the amount of fibers being released into public waterways is equivalent to the amount of plastic in up to 11,900 grocery bags.”

13. Patagonia. An Update on Microfiber Pollution. The Cleanest Line. February 3, 2017.

“Microfibers found in our oceans can originate from a wide variety of textiles (such as nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic or spandex)—everything from running shorts to yoga pants to fleece jackets and more—which shows the need for engagement on this issue by the entire apparel industry and through all steps in the product life cycle.”

14. Remy, F., et al. (2015). When Microplastic Is Not Plastic: The Ingestion of Artificial Cellulose Fibers by Macrofauna Living in Seagrass MacrophytodetritusEnvironmental Science & Technology 49, 11158−11166doi: 10.1021

“Ingested artificial fibers of various sizes and colors were found in 27.6% of the digestive tracts of the nine dominant species regardless of their trophic level or taxon.”

15. Rochman, Chelsea. (2016). Strategies for reducing ocean plastic debris should be diverse and guided by scienceEnvironmental Research Letters, 11 (4), 1748-9326. doi: 10.1088.

“We must adopt both source reduction and cleanup strategies that are informed by the best available science.”

16. Rochman, C., et al. (2015). Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumptionScientific Reports 5: 14340. doi: 10.1038.

“In Indonesia, anthropogenic debris was found in 28% of individual fish and in 55% of all species. Similarly, in the USA, anthropogenic debris was found in 25% of individual sh and in 67% of all species.”

17. Starr, Michelle. Tiny plankton snacking on plastic is a big problem for the food chain. CNet. July 7, 2015.

“If zooplankton populations drop, the animals that eat zooplankton will have a harder time finding food. Moreover, what zooplankton ingest often ends up ingested by their predators, all the way to the top of the food chain.”

18. Sutton, Rebecca. Microplastic Contamination in San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Estuary Institute. 2015, revised 2016.

“On average, Bay Area facilities released an estimated 7,000,000 particles per day to San Francisco Bay.”


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