How washing your clothes creates micro-plastics

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Every time we wash our clothes micro-plastics are released.

Micro-plastics are tiny pieces of plastic (usually the size of a human hair), and because of their size they do not get filtered through any of our wastewater treatment. Instead they enter into the sea and ocean, and are engulfed inexorably by fish and sea creatures.

Micro-plastics are a huge problem because of their almost invisible appearance. It is very hard to see them with the naked eye, and yet thousands of pieces have been found inside fish and animals, causing huge internal problems. Apparently, even when the waters look clear, there are most probably still thousands of pieces of tiny plastic floating around. These micro-plastics then enter into our food chain, through fish and through water. According to Orb Media  83 percent of drinking water contains micro-plastic fibres. This figure reaches 93 percent for bottled water. Micro-plastics can cause all kinds of diseases including cancer and fertility problems, and I am sure many more will become apparent in the future.

The worst culprits are synthetic fibers, and in particular fleece material. According to Rachel Lincon Sarnoff washing one fleece release 250,000 micro-fibres, Older materials release more synthetics than new ones. Using a powder laundry detergent is worse than liquid (due to the friction it creates). There are currently lots of studies being conducted on different methods to create a preventative tool. The research at the moment is being funded and created by independent parties and not the washing machine or clothing companies themselves (other than Patagonia), both parties shifting the blame and allowing the consumer to pick up the bill.

So what we can we do to try to prevent this?

  1. Invest in a GuppyFriend bag. This is a huge wash bag that you put your laundry inside and then put into your washing machine. It collects the microfibers into the bag, and you can empty them into the bin. It also apparently causes less micro-plastics to be released. There is a HUGE amount of information on their website.
  2. Check the label before you buy- avoid the synthetic materials these are usually made from natural gas and oil and you don’t want that anywhere near your skin. These also release more micro-plastics
  3. Wash on a cooler wash (around 30-40 degrees if you can)
  4. Make a bigger load and wash as much as you can at once
  5. Wash your clothes less. Using stain remover if you can or air your clothes to avoid just chucking it into the laundry basket
  6. Use liquid instead of powder laundry detergent, this creates less friction and therefore less shredding

 

photo by @Amandajanejones

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