The study will be conducted by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, and is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.
Researchers will examine synthetic microfibres, like polyester, nylon, and acrylics, in marine environments, and will try to link them to materials used to produce clothing items.
“If we better understand the type of fibres that are getting into the water system, we can go back up the supply chain and we can work with those factory partners of ours to try to find ways to lock the fabrics down more so that they don’t release fibre,” says MEC Chief Product Officer Jeff Crook.
Microplastics come in various forms, including tiny beads in cosmetic products, water bottles that are broken up into smaller pieces, and finally small fibres that come off of clothes when washed.
Crook says that last form is what the study will focus on.
“Home washing machines don’t have filters or catchment to grab those small fibres which are coming off garments when you’re washing them,” says Crook.
A major concern around microplastic pollution is the effect the fibres have on the food system. Crook says plastic fibres are persistent and make their way into the food chain.
“I’ve seen some studies where they’ve plucked fish out from the depths, like the fish that live way down in the dark, way, way under deep in the ocean, when they pull them up and look inside their stomachs, sometimes they’re getting like 40% of their stomach volume full of plastic junks,” says Crook. He adds “they tend to concentrate higher up in the food chain”, and says there have been traces reported in some BC oyster farms.
MEC is providing a $50,000 grant to the one-year study and hopes it will raise awareness.
The company also hopes the findings will help people modify behaviors that contribute to the problem in the long-run.