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What you can do to reduce microfiber pollution

What you can do to reduce microfiber pollution

It’s incredibly frustrating to think that the very clothes that allow us to enjoy the great outdoors are also contributing to polluting it.

We’re all dumping tiny plastic fragments into the water.


article by Starre Vartan

The issue of plastic pollution in our environment has become a huge problem, and quickly. In the past few decades, our use of all types of plastics has skyrocketed — especially single-use disposables, which 40 percent of plastics are. And in that short time, plastics feel like they’ve become entrenched in our culture. I know know even though I try pretty hard, I still end up using a lot more than I want to. Even worse? Many of us are polluting with plastics despite our best intentions, just by washing our clothes.

Maybe you’ve heard about microplastic pollution. Every time we wash synthetic fabrics like polyester, which is just a yarn made from plastic, very small pieces break off and flow down the drain into our local waterways. No, water-treatment plants can’t catch all the pieces. And the older the fabrics, the more fibers they shed in the wash, so those of us who keep our clothes for decades to save both money and resources, are actually the biggest offenders when it comes to microplastic shedding.

No, it doesn’t matter what kind of polyester, nylon, or combo-synthetic fabric you use, this microfiber shedding in the washing machine happens whether you buy a fleece or yoga pants made with virgin materials or made from recycled bottles.

Once these fibers get into the local river and beyond, “they act like sponges, sucking up other pollutants around them,” explains the Story of Stuff project, which is raising awareness and seeking solutions to this issue. They’re like little toxic bombs full of motor oil, pesticides, and industrial chemicals that end up in the bellies of fish and eventually in the bellies of us. It’s gross. It’s already estimated there are 1.4 million trillion in our oceans. That’s like 200 million microfibers for every person on the planet!”

So, what are the potential fixes to microplastic pollution?

For the most part, the key to addressing this issue is going to be up to textile manufacturers and the fashion companies that use their materials — which is discouraging, considering how long its taken companies to deal with the labor abuses and other environmental issues endemic to the fashion industry.

But that’s who has to make the change, figuring out a way to make fabrics in such a way that they don’t shed tiny fibers. We need to keep talking about this issue and get clothing companies to come up with solutions, with some caveats.

As the Story of Stuff explains, “There are some roads that we don’t want to go down; for example, the idea of a chemical coating to prevent microfiber release could cause more problems than it solves if those chemicals are also bad for the environment and human health.” So let the companies you buy stuff from know what you think about this issue; when you’re in the store trying on clothes, ask an associate what their plan is and how the company is tackling the issues — especially any outdoor company, since their business model should take into account keeping pollution out of the places we wear their clothes.

Another industry ally could be the companies that make washing machines. As Mary Jo Dilonardo reported here on MNN: “It would be really great if the washing machine companies would get on board and come up with a filter to trap these microfibers,” Caitlin Wessel, regional coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, told the AP.

But there are issues with that idea: “The problem is that there are already 89 million washing machines in the United States, and we don’t think it’s realistic to retrofit all of those machines. What’s more, we don’t know how or if this type of filtering would even work. At the end of the day, this problem is the responsibility of the clothing industry, not washing machine manufacturers,” points out The Story of Stuff.

But you can also tackle this issue personally by making some simple changes in what you buy and your laundry routine:

Wash your clothes less frequently: Plenty of us throw our clothes into the laundry even when they’re not really dirty, to avoid putting them away. This is a waste of water resources (and energy, if they’re dried in the dryer). But it also contributes to microfiber pollution every time you wash. So if you wash less, fewer fibers get loose. So wear that fleece a few more times before tossing it into the wash, or wear a cotton undershirt beneath your polyester tops or dresses, so you can simply wash the undershirt and not the whole dress or blouse each time you wear them.

Wear only natural fibers: Choosing only 100 percent natural-fiber clothing like wool, alpaca, cashmere, cotton, linen and silk is one way to avoid sending microplastics into the environment, since when these materials are washed, the fibers they lose are biodegradable. I’ve actually gone this route over the last few years; I haven’t actively thrown away good clothing, but when it’s come time to replace a jacket, I have gotten a boiled-wool sweater instead. I find natural fibers to be much more comfortable against my skin and less stinky too, when it comes to workout wear, meaning I need to wash them less.

Use a fiber-collecting device in your washing machine: There are a few out there, like the Guppyfriend, which collects microfibers inside a bag. You can then scoop them out and toss them in the trash, where at least they won’t work their way into the water supply. There’s also the Cora Ball, which might be easier to use, since it collects whatever microfibers loosen in a whole load of wash. Besides, you might not know exactly what clothes are even made from if labels wear off over time.

There’s no simple solution to our plastics problem, whether we’re talking microfibers or single-use plastics or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Dealing with any of it will require time, money, ingenuity, individual behavior change and — toughest of all — getting large companies to change their business models. Because right now, the capitalist structure that we all live within requires constant growth for every company, and the faster the growth, the better. So, the more plastic we use, the more stuff we consume, the better for financial bottom lines — even if it’s worse for our health and the health of the planet.

Link to original article …


‘the ocean clean up’ – New technologies to rid our oceans of plastic pollution

‘the ocean clean up’ – New technologies to rid our oceans of plastic pollution



New study reports sea surface feeders in Great Pacific Garbage Patch encounter 180 times more plastic than marine life

Delft, The Netherlands, December 21, 2017 – Surface waters of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contain 180 times more plastic than marine life by weight, according to an international team of scientists from The Ocean Cleanup and six universities from five countries.

The new study, published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, reports that plastics floating in the oceanic accumulation zones, or ‘garbage patches’, carry chemical pollutants whose levels seem high enough to pose a health risk to organisms that ingest them. These findings underline that the current accumulation of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can already have multiple health impacts to sea life.

“It is alarming that this oceanic region has more harmful plastics than food available for sea surface feeders such as endangered sea turtles and marine birds.” says Dr Julia Reisser, co-author of the study and Chief Scientist of the study’s expedition to the patch.

This is the first time pollutant concentrations were analysed on ocean plastics of different types and sizes, from sand-sized microplastics to huge bundles of discarded fishing nets.

The ratio of ocean plastic to marine life weight was obtained by weighing the plastic and biological contents (such as algae, plankton, jellyfish, fish and eggs) captured by sea surface samplers known as Manta Trawls.

Dr Reisser explains that worldwide data on the relative amounts of plastic when compared to food available for marine animals is limited. “From personal experience sailing across oceans, I was surprised to witness the unique situation in this very remote area of the high seas. Our newly acquired data on plastic/prey ratios indicate that organisms feeding on floating particles may have plastic as a major component of their diet. Eating plastic is harmful, because it may leave animals with a full stomach without providing any nutritional value, which can lead to starvation. Our results now show there is an additional risk to also receive a portion of toxic chemicals from this ingested plastic.”

The presence of pollutants on ocean plastics is well-known, but the environmental chemistry and toxicological hazard of these substances remain poorly understood.

“We are convinced our study is an important step towards understanding the implications of oceanic garbage patches to the health of our oceans.” said lead author Dr Qiqing Chen from East China Normal University.

The study’s surveys were conducted aboard the mothership of a multi-vessel citizen science initiative known as the Mega Expedition. Laboratory analyses were conducted at Wageningen Marine Research (the Netherlands). The project was led and sponsored by The Ocean Cleanup Foundation.

[Header image © Matthew Chauvin]


credits –  ‘The Ocean Cleanup’

impressions ‘By Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup’