Last year, Treinish went to Uganda to visit with mountain gorillas for Conservation Through Public Health, which is working to prevent human diseases from being transmitted to the dwindling population of the endangered primates. In April, he was named a finalist for the latest TED Fellowship. This year, Treinish is gearing up for the birth of his first child, due in June, and has been maintaining focus on a serious, yet poorly understood, threat to the global environment: marine and freshwater micro-plastic pollution. Over the past four years, trained volunteers have collected over 2,400 water samples from around the world and delivered them to ASC, which tested them for the presence of micro-plastics. The group found minute plastic particles and fibers in 74 percent of those samples, including 86 percent of the marine samples. We recently caught up with Treinish to talk about the prevalence of plastic in wild places.
Were you surprised at how far micro-plastics have spread into the environment?
I was shocked. I would never have guessed that almost 90 percent of every liter of water on the surface of the Earth has plastics in it — including a recent one that we found in glacial meltwater that had never been visited before.
Now we’ve wound down field collections. June 1 is the last day people can submit samples. We're moving now to making sure that we are sharing the data as far and wide as we can, that we are leveraging those data to really have as much impact as possible.
Over 80 percent of the micro-plastic pollution in your samples were tiny fibers, probably from textiles. Does that put the outdoor clothing industry, which relies heavily on synthetic fibers, in a touchy spot?
I think that the entire outdoor industry was surprised to learn that there might be this outcome from washing our fleece jackets and synthetic clothing in general. We need corporations investing money into new and better products that are going to be less harmful, helping the world to understand that front-loading washing machines are better than top-loaders, that newer and more quality fabrics are better than the cheaper stuff.
Gregg Treinnish with the gunk from his washing machine filter