You have ditched plastic straws, take your own cup to the coffee shops and stopped ordering takeaways to reduce plastic waste. But did you hear about the microplastics problem?
Recently, when doing some zero waste shopping, I came across Guppy Friend washing bag. As its producer claims, the bag reduces harmful fibre shedding and release of microplastics from synthetic clothes that would otherwise ended up in the ocean waters. Not knowing much about the problem before I instantly got curious to find out more about micro waste.
The release of micro plastics is mainly caused by the mechanical and chemical stresses that fabrics undergo during a washing process in a washing machine, which lead to the detachment of microfibres from the yarns that constitute the textile.
Older apparel has the tendency to lose more fibers. The hotter your water, the more likely you’ll lose fibers. And if you only wash soft fabrics, fewer microfibers will break.
Unfortunately, due to their dimensions, the released microfibres could partially pass through wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and reach directly the oceans.
What is very alarming and concerning, microplastic pollution caused by washing processes of synthetic textiles has recently been assessed as the main source of primary microplastics in the oceans (35% of the global release). This estimation is not surprising considering that synthetic fibres represent almost the 60% of the annual global consumption of fibres used in the apparel industry Synthetic plastic fibers are cheap and extremely versatile, providing for stretch and breathability in athleisure, and warmth and sturdiness in winter clothes.
But unfortunately they also pose a great threat for marine organisms and even us. Microplastics can be toxic to wildlife on their own, but they can also act like sponges, soaking up other toxins in the water. Worse, they can be ingested by all sorts of marine wildlife and accumulate in the food chain. A recent study found around 73 percent of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Northwest Atlantic had microplastic in their stomachs. Even the animals that live in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, are eating microplastics.
So what can we do about it?
- Buying natural fibers, or fewer clothes overall.
- Using washing machines with finer filters.
- Push textile manufactures to design fabrics that shed less (clothing companies could utilize them, and consumers could be more mindful).
- Use earth-friendly filter mesh clothes washing bag (they are great for catching man-made micro fibres and dog hairs too).