Scientists make jarring discovery while analyzing coastal waters: ‘We were really surprised that nobody had reported this before’

The plastic plague has taken a new turn, with artificial grass now contributing to the problem off of one Spanish coast.

What’s happening?

Researchers at the University of Barcelona recently made a jarring discovery after analyzing seawater off the city’s coast: high concentrations of fibers from artificial grass that are made of plastic, NewScientist reported.

In fact, artificial grass accounts for 15% of larger plastics found in samples within about a half-mile of the shoreline.

The study excluded microplastics, focusing only on pieces 5 millimeters (or 0.2 of an inch) or larger. That’s because it’s harder to determine the origin of microplastics. The water samples were taken between 2014 and 2021.

The study’s lead author, Liam de Haan, thinks Barcelona’s large population paired with the city’s frequent use of artificial turf for sports probably accounts for the high numbers.

“We were really surprised that nobody had reported this before,” he told NewScientist.

Why is artificial grass in the seas concerning?

While fake turf offers the advantage of water savings since it doesn’t need to be irrigated, it’s not exactly good for the environment.

First of all, it’s made from polyethylene, a type of plastic. It only lasts for about 10-20 years, and it is difficult to reuse or recycle. As the artificial grass breaks down, small pieces of plastic can make their way into soil and waterways, contributing to plastic pollution.

Ocean plastics like those near Barcelona threaten animals and ecosystems. For example, birds, whales, fish, and turtles mistake plastic for prey. Their stomachs can become lined with it, causing them to starve. They may also suffer from infections, cuts, internal injuries, and reduced swimming abilities, according to the International Union of Concerned Scientists.

Plus, artificial turf reaches higher temperatures than natural grass. It absorbs significantly more radiation than living vegetation, thereby potentially contributing to the warming of the planet, per the University of Plymouth in the U.K.

What can I do to help with plastic pollution in the ocean?

Refrain from using fake grass in your own yard. In fact, you can skip a manicured lawn altogether, instead opting for a biodiverse lawn full of native plants.

You can also help curb plastic pollution by saying no to single-use plastics like grocery bags, plastic wrap, straws, and coffee cup lids. Instead, invest in things like reusable bags, steel straws, or a travel mug for your morning coffee.

You can also stop buying bottled water. Each year, nearly 20 billion plastic bottles are thrown away, per the Natural Resources Defense Council. Keep a reusable water bottle with you — maybe one with a built-in filter.

Other ways you can help include supporting a bag tax or ban in your local community, buying items in bulk, and recycling when possible.

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