The dramatic increase in plastic pollution is undeniable. There are entire islands in the ocean now known as Trash Islands, as massive amounts of plastic wash up on shore daily. Research shows rain falling in the Rocky Mountains contains tiny plastic fibers, and countless studies show marine life dying from plastic consumption.
Now, researchers in California have released a shocking study that explores just how pervasive plastic pollution is.
Researchers sifted through 200-years-worth of sediments in the Santa Barbara Basin and found the amount of plastic pollution doubled every 15 years since 1945 when plastics were first used commercially.
The team of researchers picked the Santa Barbara Basin specifically for this study because its calm water and absence of oxygen preserves sedimentary layers. Each half centimeter of sediment represents roughly two years of history, according to the researchers who were from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
It’s a rare opportunity to look at layers of undisturbed sediments over such a long period of time. The preservation of the sediments provides a clear picture of plastic pollution and its exponential increase since World War II, reports Phys.org.
What researchers found
The earliest layer of sediments dated back to 1834. No plastic was found in that layer. Sediment layers from the 1940s, however, started to contain plastic, with each layer containing more than the next.
The kind of plastic researchers found were mostly microplastics. Microplastics are small bits of plastic that are smaller than the tip of a pencil. Most of what researchers found were actually small bits of plastic fibers found in clothing.
Consumers are usually surprised to learn that their clothing contains plastic, but it’s true. Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers are all forms of plastic. A staggering 60% of the material that makes up clothes worldwide contains plastic, according to Vox.
Every time you do a load of laundry, small plastic fibers are flushed into wastewater.
How many fibers? Research from the University of Plymouth shows an estimated 728,000 fibers can come off per wash.
In time, the fibers are carried into major waterways and are found in places like the Santa Barbara Basin.
A new approach
The amount of plastic pollution in the ocean is a global problem. Programs like recycling and ocean clean-up efforts aren’t putting a dent in the problem. It’s time for a different approach.
Purchasing organic clothing or clothing from manufacturers that work to curb plastic use is a good start, but it’s not enough.
In addition, consumers should cut their use of single-use plastics. Everything from bottled water to laundry detergent is packaged in single-use containers – which can be eliminated through refill technology.
Consumers can refill bottles of their favorite products at neighborhood stores. While refill technology exists, merchants are slow to adopt it. Consumers can change that.
Join the movement to bring refill technology to a store near you. By making a change, the next sediment test could show decreasing plastic pollution.