Every time we wash our synthetic fabrics, small pieces of plastic seep out of our clothes, swirl down the drain, and make their way into the ocean.
Those small fragments are called microfibers, a type of microplastic that forms after larger materials have broken down. At five millimeters or less, they are a growing problem in the world’s waters. They damage the food chain, showing up in plankton, mammalian digestion systems, and shellfish consumed by humans.
TO report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that 35 percent of primary microplastic pollution comes from synthetic clothing and textiles, and the remainder from cigarette butts, personal care products and other plastic products. In the Arctic of eastern Canada, the researchers found they were present in almost all the water samples.
It is part of the larger picture of the plastic problem in Canada, where 3.3 million tons of plastic is thrown away each year, with only nine percent going to the recycling bin.
However, a new study from Ocean Wise offers a hopeful outlook, says Laura Hardman, director of its Plastic Free Oceans campaign. The report, launched this month, the microplastics found can be significantly reduced by upgrading the filters in washing machines. The new filters have the potential to trap up to 90 percent of microfibers.
The researchers tested two types of lint traps, from LINTLUVR and Filtrol, which Hardman said most brands of washing machines could incorporate into their existing systems to reduce plastic waste. Apparel corporations could also use more efficient filters and prewash before shipping products to consumers, the report suggests, as most fabrics lose most of their microfibers during the first wash. Also, one option is for companies to vacuum the particles during production.
Filters in washing machines are not the fundamental principle for solving microfiber contamination, but Hardman says they could be an effective and immediately available intervention. The filters can be used with any machine, although depending on the size of the machine hose, a flexible hose and clamp may be required to attach the filter to the machine.
“An average of 533 million microfibers are being released by your average home in Canada and the United States and are being discharged into the environment. And that adds up to 85 billion microfibers, believe it or not, in wastewater annually in Canada in the US, ”he explained, referencing a previous Ocean Wise. study.
“To visualize it, that’s the equivalent of 10 microfiber blue whales that enter our oceans, rivers and lakes every year.”
A report by @OceanWise found that microplastics can be significantly reduced by improving filters in washing machines. The new filters have the potential to trap up to 90 percent of microfibers. # Plastic Pollution
The study of microplastics is still relatively new, says Hardman, who explains that more research needs to be done to explain what percentage of microfibers are released once the garments are brought home compared to during the production process, as well as the extent of effects in humans. And animals.
To 2019 Victoria University study investigated the latter and found that people consume tens of thousands of plastic particles per year. Again, the researchers say that the full impacts need to be further analyzed, but that it is an important step in understanding plastic pollution.
Microplastics can not only be ingested, but they exist in the air and can be inhaled, explains lead author Kieran Cox.
“Human dependence on plastic packaging and food processing methods for major food groups, such as meats, fruits and vegetables, is a growing problem. Our research suggests that microplastics will continue to be found in most, if not all, items intended for human consumption, ”Cox said.
“We need to re-evaluate our reliance on synthetics and change the way we manage them to change our relationship with plastics.”
So do corporations, says Hardman, who says clothing companies can do things like design fleece (one of the main culprits for microfiber) to have lower sag rates and create long-lasting garments.
The report is part of the organization’s ongoing microfiber project, which sees collaborations between garment industry players and government to work towards microplastics solutions, so it is hopeful that more companies will start embracing the suggested practices.
People can buy durable clothing or second-hand items, rather than fast fashion items, which are more likely to shed microfibers.
“It really energizes us to keep asking the challenging questions that are going to empower and enable companies to act and people to act. We all have a role to play … it’s not just about business, it’s not just legislators, it’s not just consumers, ”he said.
“We are all part of the system. And we all have a role to play in addressing this very real problem, which will only grow if we don’t take action now. “