We all know that microplastics in our oceans are a danger not only to marine life but also to our food supply. Banning single-use plastic bags from our supermarkets and microbeads from our body wash has got New Zealand started in addressing some of the problems, but for a bigger impact, it might pay to read the label on your clothing.
Polyester, Lycra, and nylon are all cheap and versatile materials that give you the comfortable, breathable stretch in your activewear and the warm, long-lasting durability in your outerwear. These materials are also synthetic or man-made fibres created from plastic and making up about 60 per cent of all clothing globally.
With the rise of fast fashion, where high-street brands produce cheap, low-quality clothing to meet consumer demands for on-trend clothing, the amount of clothing dumped into landfills each year is steadily rising.
This over-consumption of clothing, however, is only one part of the challenge when it comes to what we wear. Scientists are now looking into the contribution that synthetic fabric clothing could be making to ocean microplastic pollution from a simple act that most of us do every week.
Throwing your clothes into the washing machine is part of the process of owning and maintaining them. The machine along with water and detergent cleans your clothes through a process of agitation in the drum.
This agitation not only gets the dirt out of your clothing but, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, also breaks off small pieces of loose fibre (microplastics) from your clothing.
These tiny fibres, known as microfibres are so small that they easily pass through the filtration system in the washing machine as well as the sewage filters in the waste water facility and can end up flowing out through our waterways as microplastics.
The researchers set up a series of experiments where they washed new and old clothing that was made from either polyester fleece or nylon shell material. Alarmingly, they found that on average one synthetic fleece jacket released 1.7g of plastic microfibres with each wash.
They also found that older clothing shed almost twice as much than new jackets. When they compared types of washing machines they found that the mass of microfibre produced from top-load washing machines was approximately seven times more than was produced by a front-loading machine.
adapted from source
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life.
Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean and Great Lakes. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed) are called “microplastics.”
As an emerging field of study, not a lot is known about microplastics and their impacts yet. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading efforts within NOAA to research this topic. Standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface-water microplastic samples have been developed and continue to undergo testing. Eventually, field and laboratory protocols will allow for global comparisons of the amount of microplastics released into the environment, which is the first step in determining the final distribution, impacts, and fate of this debris.
Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.
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