Plastics have entered our lives in many ways, some in explicit form, while some in a form that we don’t even realize while consuming them. Microplastics are one such type of plastics. We can’t see them with naked eyes, but we are constantly releasing them in the environment by driving cars, using cosmetics, painting homes, and even washing our clothes! In this article, we are particularly talking about the microplastics released by washing our clothes.
About two-thirds of clothes these days contain synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, spandex which are simply different forms of plastic. When these clothes are washed, they release tiny fibers called microplastics. The release of microplastics from synthetic clothes is mainly caused by the mechanical and chemical stresses that fabrics undergo during a washing process in a laundry machine, which leads to the detachment of microfibers from the yarns. It’s hard to pin down the exact amount of plastic pollution per load because there are so many factors that may contribute to this process: type of material, the way fabric is knitted, the temperature of the water, type of detergent, type of washing cycle used in the machine, or just how big the washing load is. But it is estimated that millions of such particles can get released in just one load of laundry.
From homes or commercial laundry machines, the water reaches sewage plants. These microplastics are so small that they are not even caught by the sewage plant filters. Hence the treated water from sewage plants containing these microplastics gets released into the rivers, and eventually enters the oceans. It is not hard to guess that the fish, turtles, and other marine animals ingest these microplastics. Once these tiny particles are in the food chain, they end up on our dinner plates too! These microplastics also get mixed up with the sewage sludge which becomes part of biosolids and fertilizers that are eventually mixed in soil and fed to our plants. So there is not much you can do to escape these tiny plastic pieces.
What’s the solution? Well, it’s not easy to switch our clothing to all-natural materials like cotton, hemp, wool. Often synthetic materials are more economical to buy, and they also have certain qualities such as odor absorbing, water-resistant, stretchable, wrinkle-free which are needed for sports, athleisure, swimwear, and much more apparel like that. Some best practices that can be followed while doing laundry to reduce microplastics are using cold water, using a lower spin speed, using mild detergent, reducing the time of wash. The goal is to reduce the physical and chemical agitation involved in washing clothes whenever possible.
Some companies have come up with innovative ways to catch these tiny pollutants right at the source i.e. during the washing process itself! One such innovation is a washing bag by Guppyfriend. The washing bag protects the clothes from fiber shedding. It also catches the fibers that still get shed, which can then be thrown in the trash instead of letting them go in the waterways.
Now that we are aware of the problem and also know about potential solutions, let’s make a change to save our oceans and ourselves from these tiny pollutants!