We recently heard about a UK based campaign called #whatsinmywash raising awareness about the devastating effects that microfibres are having on our oceans. With very little research undertaken, the impact of microfibre pollution is still in its early stages, however its estimated that 1/3 of all primary microplastics in our oceans come from washing textiles, including our clothes.
Here at MG/B we try hard to be conscious about everything we buy, not just in our wardrobes but in our home, but that’s not enough. We need to ensure that we are conscious about the way in which we are caring for our clothes and textiles.
Below we explore exactly what microplastics are and how we can help the problem:
What are microfibres?
Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic make up the majority of our wardrobes. In fact, 60% of all clothing made contains polyester. These fabrics are actually a type of plastic and due to friction, when washed they shed tiny strands of plastic less than 5mm long, called plastic microfibres. Like microbeads, they’re a type of microplastic pollution, ending up in our rivers, oceans and food. They’re also very difficult to see which is why its taken us so long to realise they’re such a problem.
Why are microfibres an issue?
Scientists estimate that 1/3 of all primary microplastics in our oceans come from washing textiles, including our clothes. In fact, they’re thought to be the largest contributor of microplastics in our oceans. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this means around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres a year contribute to ocean pollution – 16 times more than the plastic microbeads from cosmetics. Unlike microbeads, they can’t simply be removed from our supply chain. And microfibre pollution is on the increase. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that 22 million tonnes of microfibres will be added to our oceans between 2015 and 2055.
Plastic microfibres are ending up in our waterways, ecosystems and in our food and drink. They’ve been found in global oceans, rivers, agricultural soils, marine and freshwater animals, and products sold for human consumption including: fish, honey, sea salt and drinking water. A recent study in Austria studied human stool samples and found microplastics in all of them. This suggests that plastic could be found widespread in our food chain.
We aren’t 100% sure about the biological effects of microfibre pollution. This is why it’s so important that more research takes place. We know that previous studies showed that plastic can lead to chemical and biological changes in ocean organisms. We also know that microfibres have a unique shape and associated chemicals, and can attract pathogens and pollutants throughout their life cycle.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Research is in its early stages, but findings so far indicate that taking better care of our clothes and preventing them from wearing out can reduce the likelihood of microfibres shedding and entering our oceans. Follow these simple steps to help prevent microfibres shedding at home:
Wash your clothes with care
How you wash your clothes is one of the most important ways that we as individuals can reduce the likelihood of microfibres shedding in the wash. Follow our #WhatsInMyWash care tips on how to care for your clothes and make them last longer:
Look at your clothing labels
Be aware of the care instructions and what your clothes are made out of. Share a picture of your label with #WhatsInMyWash to show your support.
Wash clothes only when you need to
Microfibres are released in the wash, so if you can get another wear out of something, let it air instead.
Wash clothes on 30° and on shorter, gentler cycles
Not only does this save energy, research suggests it can limit microfibre shedding as cooler water doesn’t wear your clothes as much as hotter ones.
Use a bag to wash your clothes
Sealable bags are a great way of reducing microfibres in the wash, ones such as Guppy Friend are a good place to start.
Air dry your clothes
Tumble dryers may wear your clothes out increasing the likelihood of microfibre release on the next wash. Your clothes will stay in shape for longer too! If you have a condenser tumble dryer, the liquid collected may contain plastic microfibres – empty it into the bin rather than your sink.
Choose clothes you really love which are made to last
Choose clothing which is more durable, you’ll get more wears from, and which won’t end up in the bin. The UK already sends 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill every year. Over time this clothing breaks down into microplastics which can find their way into eco systems and often our oceans too.
Check your clothing care label and look out for clothes made from organic and well sourced fabrics. Think about the other items in your wardrobe. Will you get your 30 wears out of it?
Join the conversation at www.whatsinmywash.co.uk and social @hellohubbub