Invisible plastic: microfibers are just the beginning of what we don’t see | Mary Catherine O’Connor

The tiny pollutants in our clothes are forcing us to look harder for, and think more carefully about, the ways humans have shaped the environment

Opening my washing machine at the end of a cycle is not something that generally fills me with excitement. But today it did, because doing so – I thought – would finally allow me to see and touch something I’ve been reporting on for years: synthetic microfiber pollution from apparel.

Related: Will clothes companies do the right thing to reduce microfiber pollution?

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Will clothes companies do the right thing to reduce microfiber pollution?

Synthetic fibers are polluting the world’s oceans – but a new report shows how apparel companies have been far too slow to respond. Can they change their ways?

Over the past few years, evidence has been mounting that synthetic textiles such as polyester and acrylic, which make up much of our clothing, are a major source of pollution in the world’s oceans. That’s because washing those clothes causes tiny plastic fibers to shed and travel through wastewater treatment plants into public waterways. These microfibers are sometimes inadvertently gobbled up by aquatic organisms, including the fish that end up on our plate.

The apparel industry is largely responsible for stopping microfiber pollution, yet it has been slow to respond, according to a report released Tuesday by Mermaids, a three-year, €1.2m project by a consortium of European textile experts and researchers. The report recommended changes in manufacturing synthetic textiles, including using coatings designed to reduce fiber loss.

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Only 14% of plastics are recycled – can tech innovation tackle the rest?

A new group of companies is innovating on the problem of plastics recycling by tackling everything from styrofoam to Ziploc bags

The world recycles just 14% of the plastic packaging it uses. Even worse: 8m tons of plastic, much of it packaging, ends up in the oceans each year, where sea life and birds die from eating it or getting entangled in it. Some of the plastics will also bind with industrial chemicals that have polluted oceans for decades, raising concerns that toxins can make their way into our food chain.

Recycling the remaining 86% of used plastics could create $80bn-$120bn in revenues, says a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But those revenues will never be fully achieved without designing new ways to breakdown and reuse 30% (by weight) of the plastic packaging that isn’t recycled because the material is contaminated or too small for easy collection, has very low economic value or contains multiple materials that cannot be easily separated. Think of candy wrappers, take-out containers, single-serving coffee capsules and foil-lined boxes for soup and soymilk.

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Microfibers are polluting our food chain. This laundry bag can stop that

Two German inventors created a laundry bag to prevent shedding microfibers ending up in oceans. Now, Patagonia will start selling it to customersFor the past three years, Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfing buddies and co-owners of Langbrett, a G…

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Patagonia, Black Diamond take on Utah officials over public land rights

The outdoor industry is leading the fight to protect America’s public lands from being developed for gas and oil

Utah, a state rich in epic landscapes and national parks, is becoming ground zero for a fight between the $646bn outdoor industry and state lawmakers over public land management.

At a trade show for outdoor clothing and gear makers in Salt Lake City this week, two prominent figures from the industry called on their peers to move the semi-annual event out of the state unless Utah leaders stop supporting efforts by Republicans in Congress to transfer or sell federal land to states. Utah governor Gary Herbert was also called out for challenging a federal law that allowed President Obama to create the new, 1.4m-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah last month.

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The latest weapon in the fight against illegal fishing? Artificial intelligence

A $150,000 reward is up for grabs for any data scientist who can write code for facial recognition software that can pinpoint illegal catch on fishing boats

Facial recognition software is most commonly known as a tool to help police identify a suspected criminal by using machine learning algorithms to analyze his or her face against a database of thousands or millions of other faces. The larger the database, with a greater variety of facial features, the smarter and more successful the software becomes – effectively learning from its mistakes to improve its accuracy.

Related: The government wants more offshore fish farms, but no one is biting

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We sent a vegetarian to see if meatless burgers can convert carnivores

The Impossible Burger is making a big impression on foodies, chefs and vegetarians, but can it find its way onto the McDonald’s menu?

I hold the burger with both hands and bring it, somewhat trepidatiously, to my mouth. I commit myself to at least one bite. As I close my eyes and chew, some long dormant receptor in my mind comes alive and for a split second it’s 1986 again and I am eating a hamburger at a family cookout in Chicago.

This is the first time I’ve eaten meat in 30 years – except, this is not meat.

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Ditch the car: how to visit America’s national parks without the congestion

Traffic congestion has become part of the experience of visiting popular national parks in the US. Now, more parks are beefing up their public transport options

If you’ve ever visited an iconic national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Glacier, your first glimpses of arresting, postcard-perfect vistas were probably framed by a car window. That’s how I first glimpsed Yosemite’s Half Dome. After driving through the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road, the road curved and the valley came into view. Angels sang. I was so overwhelmed by that monolith’s grandeur and beauty that I had to pull over onto the shoulder and have a good cry.

Years later, I stuffed my backpack with supplies and headed out my front door, Yosemite bound once again. I walked 10 minutes to the nearest San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) station, which I rode east, to the Richmond station, and transferred to Amtrak. I used the train’s free Wi-Fi to get some work done during the scenic two-hour and 40-minute ride to Merced, California, where I waited a half hour for a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (Yarts) bus up to Yosemite, another two-hour trip.

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Can you put a price on nature? A Californian nonprofit thinks it can

Chemical giant Dow is testing new software that crunches data to help assign monetary value to the natural world and calculate the environmental impact of its work

Everyone agrees that nature has value. It clothes, feeds and shelters us – and provides a spectacular playground. Yet we have never put a value on everything nature offers.

Now, environmental and sustainable business consultants want to change that by forcing corporate leaders to take stock of the economic impact of how they manage natural resources. By accounting for this so-called natural capital, the advocates hope to see more businesses adopting practices that are both good for the environment and long term profitability, especially as climate change will further deplete natural resources, causing their values to climb and increase the cost of running business. In a 1997 paper in Nature that first introduced the natural capital concept, the 13 researchers involved pegged the Earth’s worth at $33tn. A 2014 revision raised that figure to $134tn.

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