More microplastics found in Gulf of Mexico, polluting environment and seafood

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's a wardrobe staple and with good reason.

Athleisurewear is the relaxed, stretchy and stylish update to sweatpants but now some scientists say our yoga pants, sweat-wicking t-shirts and fleece jackets may not only be doing damage to our ecosystem but also our seafood.

Synthetic athleisurewear is made up of microfibers -- specifically microplastics.

"These microfibers are very tiny, They end up in our wash and then the sewage system," said Caitlin Wessel, the Gulf of Mexico regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program.

The microplastics end up in our waterways and while they may be tiny fibers, there is a lot of plastic that ends up in the ocean. In fact, the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that by the year 2050, our oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish.

Now, Caitlin Wessel is training volunteers up and down the Gulf coast to collect the pollutants.

"Ninety-two percent of the water samples had at least one microfiber in it," she said.

As part of her research, Wessel is working to measure the impact on sea life, with much of the microplastic ending up in the gills and digestive tracts of what sometimes does become our seafood.

"The number one thing you're probably eating that still has the fibers in it are your filter feeders, so I'm talking mussels, oysters and clams," said Wessel.

Scientists like Wessel suggest one solution to eliminating microplastics in our wastewater could be a special filter for washing machines. However, that won't stop people from eventually dumping their stinky athleisurewear.

The problem is they are the number one breeding ground for bacteria," said Megan Eddings.

Founder and creator of the Houston based eco-friendly athleisurewear brand Accel Lifestyle, Eddings says the bacteria stuck in your athleisurewear makes the fabric smell and even causes skin infections.

"According to the EPA, 2016, over 13 million tons of fabric were thrown away," said Eddings. "Of that, only 15 percent was recycled and the rest of it is still in the landfills."

To minimize the impact, Eddings is designing her own American-made, eco-friendly and bacteria-free line.

"Now you don't have to throw away your clothes into a landfill, you can still be happily married or in a relationship or have friends at the gym because your clothes literally will not smell," she said.

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