Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution

By: Judith S. Weis

About a year ago, the network of former AAAS Policy Fellows was discussing a call for session proposals for the 2019 AAAS meeting, the theme of which was going to be interdisciplinarity – “Science Transcending Boundaries.” I had long been thinking that environmental scientists concerned about microplastics needed to interact with textile, materials, and fiber scientists, because the vast majority of microplastics in the environment are microfibers, which come off synthetic clothing in washing machines. I know that environmental scientists can find and describe the problem, but we do not have the skills to solve them. Textile scientists have the skills to re-engineer synthetic clothing so that they won’t shed (as many) microfibers.

I proposed this idea to the group, and it was received with enthusiasm. Margaret Murphy, another former fellow, who had spent her fellowship with EPA working on the microplastics issue agreed to organize it with me.

The proposal “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” was accepted by AAAS for the meeting. Its description was as follows:

Plastic pollution caused by human activities is everywhere. Beaches covered with plastic bottles, bags, and straws attest to the problem. Microplastics, tiny pieces ranging from a few millimeters to microns in size, are less obvious, but ubiquitous. They have various sources, but the most abundant type in many areas are microfibers from synthetic textiles such as polyester, which can shed thousands of fibers when used or machine-washed. Many of these fibers are too tiny to be trapped in filters and they flow into sewage systems. Some are trapped by sewage treatment plants, but many enter aquatic systems where they number in the trillions or quadrillions. As they are plastic, they do not readily break down. Found everywhere, even in the deepest parts of the ocean, microplastics can attract chemical pollutants from the water and may be eaten by plankton and larger filter feeders such as clams and oysters. Microfibers and their attached pollutants are passed through food webs, and evidence is growing that eating microplastic harms the health of marine animals. The solution to microfiber pollution may lie in short- and long-term approaches: better filtration systems and the design of synthetic fabrics that do not shed fibers, or switching to natural or biosynthetic alternatives. This session brings together environmental scientists who study microplastic pollution and textile scientists who are developing new synthetic fabrics to discuss the problem and proposed solutions.

The final panel consisted of:

·      Dr. Chelsea Rochman, of the University of Toronto   (a “rock star” of microplastic research) Chelsea presented general information about microplastic sources, fates and effects, focusing on microfibers;

·      Dr. Melik Demirel, a materials scientist at Penn State spoke about the biosynthetic fiber he developed called Squitex, which is comparable to the silk found in squid ring teeth. Squitex, made from squid teeth proteins, is self-healing and completely biodegradable the protein; and

·      Sarah Edwards, Director of Eunomia Research & Consulting and Vice President of PWFP who explained a range of policy measures that could be used to reduce microplastics release including:

o   Development of standard test measure to quantify the release of microfibers from clothing;

o   Setting limits of microfiber release effectively leading to garments that shed the most being removed from the market;

o   Extended Producer Responsibility based funding for measures to capture microfibers in the washing machine or as a last resort in the programs to cover the cost

The session had a large interested audience with excellent questions and discussion, making it a huge success.

Following the session, the PR office of Penn State sent out some press releases about Melik Demirels’s work, which were picked up by a number of outlets, for example:   https://www.earth.com/news/biosynthetic-fibers-microplastics/. This is the sort of research that can lead to solutions.

The AAAS meeting was the start of a discussion that should continue. Only through multidisciplinary cooperation can the issue of microplastics begin to be tackled.

Microplastics Updates, March 2019

Journal Articles

Marine microfiber pollution: a review on present status and future challenges 

Microplastics occurrence in edible fish species (Mullus barbatus and Merluccius merluccius) collected in three different geographical subareas of the Mediterranean Sea 

Evaluation of microplastic ingestion by tropical fish from Moorea Island, French Polynesia 

Depuration reduces microplastic content in wild and farmed mussels 

Ingestion and effects of micro- and nano plastics in blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) larvae 

Presence and characterization of microplastics in fish of commercial importance from the Biobio region in central Chile 

Preliminary study and first evidence of presence of microplastics and colorants in green mussel, Perna viridis (Linnaeus, 1758), from southeast coast of India 

In the news

PE, PP and PS: the most abundant type of microplastics in Mediterranean coastal waters 

Microplastic polluting rivers and seas across the globe, says new research P

Microplastics are most common waste found along Mediterranean coast, study says 

Other Plastic News

Scientist discover new mineral icicles, dead mollusks, plastic at the bottom of the Great Blue Hole P

Balloons the number 1 marine debris risk of mortality for seabirds 

New warnings on plastic’s health risks as fracking industry promotes new ‘plastics belt’ build-out

Plastics reach remote pristine environments, scientists say 

Conferences (chronological) S

Impacts of Microplastics in the Urban Environment Conference (Rutgers NJ) (3/28 – 3/29)

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great Lakes Research (6/10 – 6/14) 

Ocean Heroes Bootcamp (6/28 – 6/30)

Environmental Conference in Cuba (7/1-7/5) 

Job Opportunities

5 Gyres – Development and Partnerships Manager 

Microplastics Updates, February 2019

In the news

Shellfish like mussels avoid ingesting most microplastics, research finds 

Mussels lose grip when exposed to microplastics – study 

New study finds plastic in 50 dead whales, dolphins, seals I

Marine scientists find toxic bacteria on microplastics retrieved from tropical waters 

Britain’s grey seal colony hotspots threatened by microplastics 

Pathogenic bacteria found on microplastics retrieved from Singapore’s Beaches

Singapore beaches hounded by microplastics with pathogenic bacteria 

EU proposes ban on 90% of microplastic pollutants 

Journals

Toward an ecotoxicological risk assessment of microplastics: comparison of available hazard and exposure data in freshwaters 

Microplastic contamination in an urban estuary: abundance and distribution of microplastics and fish larvae in the Douro estuary 

Conferences

AAAS Annual Meeting (2.14 – 2.17) – Scientific Session “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” 

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great Lakes Research

AAAS Annual Meeting (2.14 – 2.17) – Scientific Session “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” 

Environmental Conference in Cuba (7/1-7/5) 

Impacts of Microplastics in the Urban Environment Conference (Rutgers NJ) 

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great

Other Microplastics Resources 

International Joint Commission 

Frank News – January special on Plastics 

Microplastics Updates, October 2018

Journals

Consistent microplastic ingestion by deep-sea invertebrates over the last four decades (1976-2015), a study from the North East Atlantic 

Microplastics in the aquatic environment: evidence for or against adverse impacts and major knowledge gaps

Microplastic hotspots in the Snake and Lower Columbia rivers: a journey from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Pacific Ocean 

Microplastics in the Arctic: a case study with sub-surface water and fish samples off Northeast Greenland 

Microplastic ingestion by riverine macro invertebrates

Ingested microplaslic as a two-way transporter for PBDEs in Talitrus saltator

How mosquitoes are spreading microplastics from the water into the air 

Microplastics found in 90% of table salt 

Is my washing to blame for the plastic problem? 

In the news 

As synthetic microfibers spread in water, solutions are blossoming 

Researchers show that South Africa has a microplastic problem 

Microplastics found deep in sand where turtles nest 

Commentary/Marine plastic pollution – a planetary environmental problem 

‘Alarming’ level of microplastics found in a major U.S. River 

Mosquitoes may be contaminating ecosystems with tiny bits of plastic 

In a first, microplastics found in human poop 

Microplastics find their way into your gut, a pilot study finds 

New Jersey is pushing one of the strictest plastic bans in the nation. But is it enough? 

Videos

The Ocean Cleanup System 001 

Funding

Marine Debris research federal funding Job opportunity 

 

 

Microplastics Updates: July, 2018

Journals

Current research trends on plastic pollution and ecological impacts on the soil ecosystem: a review 

Microplastics play a minor role in tetracycline sorption in the presence of dissolved organic matter 

Retention and characteristics of microplastics in natural zooplankton taxa from the East China Sea 

Microplastics in mussels sampled from coastal waters and supermarkets in the United Kingdom

Environmentally relevant microplastic exposure affects sediment-dwelling bivalves 

Marine microplastic debris: an emerging issue for food security, food safety and human health

First evidence of microplastic ingestion by fishes from the Amazon River estuary  

Microplastic risk assessment in surface waters: a case study in the Changjiang Estuary, China 

Retention of microplastics in a major secondary wastewater treatment plant in Vancouver, Canada

Abundance and size of microplastics in a coastal sea: comparison among bottom sediment beach sediment and surface water 

Microplastics pollution in different aquatic environments and biota: a review of recent studies 

Microplastics elutriation system: Part B: insight of the next generation 

Reports/Newsletters

Microplastics Expert Workshop Report 

The Flow of Trash Free Waters 

Microplastics Final Report – Adventure Scientists

Outreach Material 

Plastic Tides Infographic 

In the News 

Link discovered between microplastics in rivers and wastewater treatment plants 

Microplastic pollution found around the coast 

Microplastics project to record amount, location and origin of pollution in the oceans 

Other Plastics News

Starbucks will stop handing out plastic straws by 2020

Hyatt announces global effort to reduce single-use plastics

Looking to cut plastics pollution in the ocean? Start upstream 

Oceans and Human Impacts 

Some pollution isn’t plastic after all 

San Francisco may become latest city to end use of plastic straws 

Santa Barbara moves to ban plastic straws, styrofoam 

Miami Beach wants to expand its ban on plastic straws 

Brick Councilman: ban plastic straws in bars, restaurants 

The push to ban plastic straws 

Material formed from crab shells and trees could replace flexible plastic packaging 

Governor Murphy signs legislation banning smoking at public beaches and parks 

Microplastics Updates: June, 2018

Journals

Microplastic contents from mariculture and natural mussels 

Low levels of microplastics (MP) in wild mussels indicate that MP ingestion by humans is minimal compared to exposure via household fibers fallout during meal 

Accumulation of polystyrene microplastics in juvenile Eriocheir sinensis and oxidative stress effects in the liver 

Microplastic abundances in a mussel bed and ingestion by the ribbed marsh mussel Geukensia demissa 

Virgin microplastis are not causing imminent harm to fish after dietary exposure 

Plastic ingestion by Scyliorhinus canicula trawl captured in the North Sea 

Trophic transfer of microplastics and mixed contaminants in the marine food web and implications for human health 

Advancements and challenges of microplastic pollution in the aquatic environment: a review 

In the news

Microplsatics in our mussels: the sea is feeding human garbage back to us

Greenpeace finds PFAS and microplastics in the Antarctic 

Investigating options for reducing releases in the aquatic environment of microplastics emitted by products 

Plastic and other waste found in British mussels 

Sen. Kennedy leads passage of America’s first state law to stop clothing fiber pollution 

Cooperative work needed between textile and environmental scientists to solve microfiber pollution

Educational Materials

Adventure Scientists Microplastics Toolkit

Microplastics Toolbox 

3 Steps to reduce plastic and benefit your business 

 

Other Plastic News

World Environment Day: Seven countries leading the charge on plastics pollution 

E.U. proposes ban on some plastic items to reduce marine pollution 

Single-use plastics: new EU rules to reduce marine litter 

How I Sea: Straw-Free San Francisco