Changing Planet

Fleece to Food: Explorer Gregg Treinish on Microplastics

I recently had the honor of attending the National Geographic Explorers Symposium. While there, I spoke about the emerging environmental issue of microplastic pollution.

Tiny, invisible microplastic particles enter the Earth’s waterways straight from our washing machines. Thousands of synthetic particles can be released from washing a single polyester fleece jacket. All clothing items—including cotton and wool—shed micro-fibers when washed, but the natural fibers biodegrade. Synthetic particles don’t degrade and can absorb toxins while traveling through the waterways. If they’re eaten by small organisms, such as fish, these toxins enter the food chain and can ultimately end up on our dinner plates.

My organization Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation is currently working to compile the world’s largest microplastics dataset. To do this, we are mobilizing our network of adventurers to collect water samples all over the world, in some of the hardest to reach places. Join the team and get involved at

In the past two and a half years, our sailors, surfers, divers, and other ocean-going adventurers have gathered marine water samples from around the world. We’ve found microplastic pollution in nearly every one-liter sample, and from some of the most remote ocean environments on Earth. This stuff is everywhere.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.04.12 PM
This map shows ASC water sampling locations around the world, with the size of the dot reflecting the amount of microplastics in each sample. (Map courtesy of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation) [Disclaimer: This map does not necessarily reflect the current map policy of the National Geographic Society.]
With that information, we expanded our research to freshwater this spring, and are now empowering hikers and paddlers on rivers, lakes, and streams to gather samples, and have put it all together on one map.

With enough data, ASC will work with government, corporate, and educational partners to instigate change, turning the microplastics faucet off at its source.

And what can you do?

– Don’t buy products with microbeads. Here is a list of products to avoid.
– Wash your fleece and other synthetic items less.
– Consider buying a filter for your washing machine.
– Use less plastic, starting with cloth grocery bags. It’s simple supply and demand.
– Support a microbead ban in your state.
– Talk to your friends and family; informed citizens make better decisions.
– Join the ASC Microplastics Project.

Learn more about ASC on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Google+.

Read More by Gregg Treinish and His Correspondents

Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow. Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.
  • One Drop Tribe

    Where/how do you recommend disposing of the waste you collect in your washing machine filter?

  • Patricia Gadsby

    I think you need to rephrase this.
    ” Use less plastic, starting with cloth grocery bags. ”
    Implies cloth bsgs are plastic, which you should use less…..

  • A B R O W N

    It’s impossible to return anything to the earth that did not come from the earth. Think about that. Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about this stuff. You are probably going to give yourself cancer worrying.

  • Jari Hiltunen

    Could those microplastics act as RNAi (or miRNA) and mess up eukaryotes like human being gene expression? Or cause histone modification? Perhaps not methylation? I know there is little affinity in between RNA/DNA and plastics molecules, but still, is this remotely possible? Should this be studied?

  • marygswain


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