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Shorelines around the globe are contaminated with microscopic pieces of plastic that seem to originate from the use of household washing machines.
Mark Anthony Browne at University College Dublin and his colleagues sampled 18 sites on six continents and across a range of latitudes. They found pieces of plastic debris smaller than 1 millimetre at all of them, with higher levels of the materials in more densely populated areas. Proportions of polyester and acrylic in the contaminants were similar to those found in clothing.
Laboratory experiments showed that washing a single garment in a standard machine can produce more than 1,900 fibres. The authors suggest that these fibres travel through the sewage system and ultimately end up in marine habitats.
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Plastic from clothing hits shorelines. Nature 478, 159 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/478159e