For years, pieces of plastic have been among the top items found by volunteers during beach sweeps along New Jersey's coast, but environmental advocates are concerned over the increased presence of a certain type of plastic on our beaches and in our oceans that could be damaging the food chain.

Cassandra Ornell, Clean Ocean Action staff scientist (Townsquare Media NJ)

Tiny plastic fragments, commonly known as microplastics, can be found by the dozens through just a quick search of certain shoreline communities. The particles can be host to toxic chemicals and bacteria, according to Clean Ocean Action (COA), that can enter into the food chain through ingestion by larger organisms.

"Microplastic pieces are present in the marine environment due not only to the breakdown of larger plastic pieces, but they are also ingredients in our personal care products and clothing that you may be using every day," said Cassandra Ornell, COA staff scientist.

Facial scrubs and toothpastes contain "microbeads" that, when rinsed down a bathroom sink, often bypass filtration systems and enter New Jersey's waterways.

Microplastics discovered on NJ beaches by Clean Ocean Action (Townsquare Media NJ)

According to the COA website, the product ingredient known as polyethylene is by far the most commonly used type of plastic in personal care products.

Also, synthetic clothing, such as polar fleece items, shed tiny plastic fragments every time they're placed in a washing machine, Ornell said.

At a recent press event in Monmouth County, COA indicated much of its research in the coming months will focus on the issue of microplastics and potential solutions.