The reading of the Guardian article last week (14th January) and that Clothes washing is linked to ‘pervasive’ plastic pollution in the article. Coincided with us planning our Eco articles for this year, to highlight stuff that maybe we do not consider..
So we decided that this week we would look further into microfibres.
What exactly are microfibres?
Wikipedia says that microfiber is synthetic fiber finer than on denier or decitex/thread, having a diameter of less than ten micrometres. A strand of silk is about one denier and about a fifth of the diameter of a human hair.
Microfibrers are in all areas of our lives – clothes, mops, cleaning clothes, basketballs, sleeping bags, thermal insulation, tablecloths, furniture and car interiors to name a few.
We are going to focus on the clothing as part of this article as synthetic materials account for 60% of the clothing and textile industry. Synthetic materials used in clothing and textiles such as polyester, acrylic and nylon account for this and the most common is polyester. Synthetic materials are man-made with the purpose of being durable, resistant to damage, and affordable. These properties along with the availability are highly popular and why synthetics are widely chosen by the fashion industry.
Washing and Wearing
When manufactured, washed and worn, synthetic clothes and textiles shed tiny plastic fibres that end up in the environment. Plastic as we know that ends up in the environment does not biodegrade: they break into smaller pieces.
These tiny pieces, called microfibre are smaller than 5mm and usually not visible to the naked eye and these are known as Primary microplastics. These include microfibres from clothing, microbeads and plastic pellets (also known as nurdles)
Plastic particles washed off from products such as synthetic clothes and textiles contribute to 35% of primary microplastics polluting our oceans according to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IICN).
EVERY time we do our washing, an average of 9 million microfibres are released into wastewater treatment plants, which cannot retrieve them and these end up in the ocean.
It is not only in washing clothing that the problem exists. By wearing synthetic clothes, plastic fibres are constantly released into the air and becoming part of the atmosphere. Recent research has proven that we are eating and drinking plastic and that plastic fibres are even raining down from the sky. We are breathing in at least 13,000 to 68,000 plastic microfibers from our clothing and other items around each year.
So our oceans are being polluted with microfibres. They have been found in a a lot of our marine life from mussels upward. Remember back to secondary school when we learned about bioaccumulation? If the bottom of the food chain has small amounts, it is amplified as we move up the food chain, if our food contains plastic, then we will too.
The long-term effect is not known on human health but although microfibres have been found in human lung samples and initial studies on mussels do suggest that prolonged exposure to microfibres could negatively impact the biofiltration and there are a number of studies currently ongoing.
What would we like you to do?
Think when purchasing clothes
Be conscious and aware of polyester when buying your next set of clothes… make it part of your purchasing decision – move away from fast fashion to a longer term strategy around your clothing and better still reduce the amount of polyester in your clothing that you do purchase.
Look for natural materials that have been sustainably sourced items as found by clicking Natural Materials below
When Washing Clothes
Fill your washing machine to the max washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes meaning fewer fibres are released
Use washing liquid instead of powder the scrubbing function of the grains of the powder results in loosening the fibres of clothes more than liquid
Use a fabric softener some ingredients in fabric softeners reduce friction between fibres so the release decreases
Wash at a low temperature when clothes are washed at a high temperature some fabrics are damaged, leading to the release of fibres
Use a microfiber ‘catcher’ in each wash
Attending a Project Aware course will take you through some of the great work that underpins Project Aware after all here at Dive Rutland we are signed up and are a 100% Project Aware dive centre. It is a dry course so now is a great time to complete
As part of this course we will work with you to set your very own goals and objectives - maybe join one of our Dive Against Debris's (you can do the speciality or just join the dives) its normally great fun, with great camaraderie, bacon butties occasionally to.
Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/clothes-washing-linked-to-pervasive-plastic-pollution-in-the-arctic?fbclid=IwAR189Ns5iK5x0TAMvXVhMgEMG_k5mhGnFneo26o9XnAcrqIQY0xwHXFO6AQ
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IICN) Report https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334841742_Distribution_and_impacts_of_microplastic_incorporation_within_sea_ice
Effects of long-term exposure to microfibers on ecosystem services provided by coastal mussels
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