Nov 3, 2021

What do clothes dryers and car tires have in common? Both release microplastic pollution into the environment, according to a new investigation by scientists at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. 

Building on SFEI’s major finding that storm-driven runoff from cities is a major pathway for microplastics to enter California’s aquatic ecosystems, this new report synthesizes available information on sources of microplastics to urban runoff, including textile, cigarette filter, and other types of fibers; single-use plastic foodware; and vehicle tires. It illustrates how plastic products and their breakdown microplastic particles move through the environment, traveling through the air, depositing on the urban landscape, and washing into streams, rivers, and coastal locations during storm events.

To address microplastic pollution, scientists highlighted an array of options, including innovative technologies like new, energy-efficient “heat pump” clothes dryers and vehicle-mounted devices in development that can capture tire particles right where they are generated on the road. Other options to address microplastic contamination include removing cigarette filters, since they have no proven health benefits; removing toxic chemical ingredients from tires, textiles, and plastic products; reducing the frequency with which we wash and dry clothing; improving the capture of dryer lint; limiting the use of single-use plastic foodware and tobacco products; and reducing driving.

The California Ocean Protection Council and the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay funded this investigation to inform microplastic management with science.

Related stories in the news:


Programs and Focus Areas: