The hidden world of microfibres
Of all primary microplastics in the world's oceans, 35% arise from laundry of synthetic textiles
Microfibres are a type of microplastic, smaller than 5mm in size. Around 64% of all new fabrics (polyester, nylon, acrylic) contain microfibres, which can be released into the environment and contaminate our water. Plastic based microfibers demonstrate very little degradation in all three aquatic environments: wastewater, freshwater, and seawater, while cellulosic fibres and cotton can degrade significantly more.
They are released into our environment in multiple ways; production, clothes washing, and fragmentation of discarded items. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to catch most microfibres, however the range of removal can vary between different plants. The microfibres which are not caught can end up in the treatment sludge often used in agriculture as fertiliser, or in our oceans
Synthetic Microfibres can absorb high concentrations of poisonous substances, including banned chemicals we once used in products like pesticides, such as DDT. Additionally toxins from detergents and fire-proofing chemicals in our clothes. These substances can bioaccumulate throughout the marine food chain up to a level that can be detrimental. Some are endocrine disruptors that can result in genetic changes and cause cancer.
But how can we reduce the amount of synthetic microfibers we are releasing? You can wash at colder temperatures and fill the washing machines to reduce friction between clothes. Buy fewer clothes and keep them for longer, as clothes shed the most in the first few washes and during production. Buy clothes made from natural and organic fibres which are more likely to biodegrade and are better for the environment.
Beverley Henry, Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp,
Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics in environmental sustainability assessment,
Science of The Total Environment,