Washing clothes is a significant source of marine microplastic pollutions
The pathway of microplastic into the marine environment
In the past years, marine microplastic pollution has become a major issue. Microplastic has been reported in a wide range of aquatic habitats. But it has effects on human health as well, as microplastics can reach our food chain. Microplastics can be ingested by a wide range of marine species that we eat, such as fish. Up to now, over 700 species are known to encounter marine litter in the environment, including commercially important fish and shellfish. Therefore, it is important that scientists investigate the pathways of marine microplastic pollution.
Washing our clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles
A new study investigated the pathway of microplastic into the marine environment through our laundry. It shows that washing our clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into the environment. The study was published in published in Marine Pollution Bulletin by the Ph.D. student Imogen Napper and his supervisor Professor Richard Thompson, a leading international expert on microplastics and marine debris.
They examined factors that support the release of fibres from polyester, polyester-cotton blend and acrylic fabrics, which are parts of our synthetic clothes. Synthetic fibres cannot be decomposed by bacteria and can therefore end up in the marine environment by being accumulated in the sludge of the sewage treatment plant. The results show that hundreds of thousands of tiny synthetic particles could be released in each wash and that washing clothes is a major source of microscopic fibres within the aquatic environment.
How many fibres could be released from a wash load?
Based on the study results, the scientist estimated that “over 700,000 fibres could be released from an average 6 kg wash load of acrylic fabric”, 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic. Authors state that “fibres released by washing of clothing could be an important source of microplastics to aquatic habitats.”
Do we need a ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetics?
Professor Thompson, who leads the International Marine Litter Research Unit at Plymouth University, recently gave both written and oral evidence to the microplastics inquiry held by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which led to recommendations for a ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetics. He said:
“Clearly, what we are not advocating that this research should trigger something similar to the recently announced ban on microbeads. In that case, one of the considerations guiding policy intervention was the lack of clear societal benefit from incorporating microplastic particles into the cosmetics, coupled with concerns about environmental impacts. The societal benefits of textiles are without question and so any voluntary or policy intervention should be directed toward reducing emissions either via changes in textile design or filtration of effluent, or both.”