Many of us are now aware that synthetic microfiber pollution is a real problem. Thanks to extensive reporting in recent years, the release of synthetic fibers from laundry into the natural environment has gone from being “the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of” (as one ecologist called it back in 2011) to something that’s on the personal radar of most moderately-informed adults.
But just how big a problem is this form of pollution? A group of researchers from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, set out to quantify the situation in a new open-access study published in the journal PLOS One. What they found was that, between 1950 (when synthetic clothing was first created) and 2016, an estimated 5.6 Mt (million metric tons) have been emitted from apparel washing worldwide, with half of it being generated in just the past