Take a deep breath in and release it, Global Citizens — we’ve got some bad news about your yoga pants.
It turns out that while you’ve been trying to lead a more balanced and holistic life by doing more yoga, your favorite leggings and tank tops may be causing serious harm to the world’s waterways, according to a new report.
Don’t worry, though, we’ve got some solutions below to help your cat-cow get more eco-friendly.
New research shows that the synthetic materials that make up most modern workout clothing — from tank tops to running pants to fleeces — are breaking down into tiny plastic threads called “microfibers” when they go through a washing machine cycle, according to The Huffington Post.
After the microfibers break off into the water inside the washing machine, they are then flushed into a wastewater treatment plant. From there, they flow into bodies of waters like lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they are being consumed by fish and are becoming embedded in the tissues of different species of marine life, according to the report.
"That's a little more alarming than something that's passing through the body," Maia McGuire, a researcher on the The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, told The Huffington Post.
McGuire was one of a team of researchers who tested water throughout the state of Florida to evaluate the amount of plastic microfiber in it, a pollutant that until now has often been overlooked because of how small the fibers actually are: more than 100 times smaller than human hair, according to the report.
In recent years, there’s been significant public awareness and action on another form of plastic pollution from consumer goods: microbeads. The microscopic plastic balls that make up body wash and toothpaste and are flushed down sink drains were banned in cosmetics by President Obama in 2015.
But the nets that have been used to collect water for analysis in the past allowed the thin threads of microfibers to pass right through, which means that researchers have historically missed them. Until now.
The Florida study found an astounding amount of microfiber in the water: 83% of all plastics found in the water in Florida are these microscopic plastic threads cast off by synthetic clothing.
There’s hope for your workout, though.
Many companies make 100% cotton workout clothes, or clothes made from other natural sources like bamboo, linen, and silk. Consumers who already own synthetic fabrics can wash them in filter bags to trap the microfibers before they get into the water.
Patagonia, which last year funded a study at the University of California at Santa Barbara into the microfibers cast off by synthetic jackets in the washing machine (1.7 grams of microfiber per jacket), is working on making a filter bag called the “Guppy Friend” to trap the fibers, according to the report.
By taking the extra step of washing your clothes in a filter bag or buying more eco-friendly clothes for your next workout class, you can bring namaste to all the creatures of the sea.