Updated: Nov 23
Every time you wash a synthetic tissue, millions of microfibers are released into the water. When you wash your synthetic clothing, tens of thousands of these microfibres end up in the wastewater. Because microfibres are too small to be filtered through wastewater treatment plants, they end up in our waters and oceans where they are causing havoc on marine life and the environment. Washing our clothes in the washer is only a source of microfibres in the environment.
When it comes to clothes, microfibers are a way to address the problem by trying to make clothes that shed fewer plastic fibres when washed. Textiles can be made and designed with fewer scales, clothing companies can use them, and consumers can be mindful.
" Filters can be installed to capture microfiber wastewater and generally use less water."
In 2013 Browne launched a new project, Benign Design, to help reduce the amount of microfibres released into the ocean. Working with designers to produce more durable fabrics that emit less plastic waste during the wash cycle, the project could help stop the problem at the source of microfiber pollution. Another way to solve the problem is to shorten the time it takes to wash synthetic clothes without the need for a washing machine. Filters can be installed to capture microfiber wastewater and generally use less water. A study released in 2019 found that the volume of water is driven up by the spinning cycle or vibration.
Guppy Friends laundry bags and Cora Balls are two of the better-known options. The Guppy Friends is a bag in which you put your synthetic clothes before you wash them. It traps microfibers that dissolve from synthetic clothing, and it reduces the degree of restlessness in the washing machine, a significant factor in the release of microfibers.
A handful of studies, including one supported by Eileen Fisher Clothing brand, have shown that drums with external microfiber filters can reduce microfiber pollution in wastewater systems to varying degrees. These barrels need to be cleaned regularly to remove the accumulated material, but it can be thrown into the trash and not flushed into the sink, diverting plastic into the sewage. After washing fleece blankets with Lint Luv (r) Market filters (pictured above) and Cora Ball (b) (pictured below), our research group found significant reductions in microphones in washing machine wastewater.
NAPER is working on a project that sees fibre filters for washing machines as a viable solution. Another option is to attach microfiber filters to the outside of your washing machine. Except for attaching them and emptying them after two to ten loads (depending on which filter you wash with), you do not have to adjust what you do with the laundry when using laundry bags or balls.
The best solution to catch microfibres in laundry is to attach a filter to the washing machine. A recent study showed that filters such as Lint Luv (r) and Filtrol have a penetration rate of 160% for 87% of the microfiber. An important source of microplastics seems to be wastewater-contaminated fibres in washed clothes. According to a new study published in Nature Communications on 12 January, Arctic Ocean is polluted by microfibres from synthetic clothing and washing machines. A recent study reported that fibre trapping gear installed in washing machines can reduce the amount of macroscopic (microscopic) fibres released into the environment.
A team of scientists from Ocean Wise, a conservation group under Canada's Department of Fish and Oceans, collected samples from depths up to 1,000 meters at various points in the Arctic Ocean. Utilising a technique called Fourier Transformation Infrared Spectrometry they discovered an average of 40 microplastic particles per cubic metre of water. When they began investigating microplastics six years ago, 80% of the particles they studied on British Columbia's coast were fibrous.
Heavy objects cause more friction, which means that more fibres break down during washing and end up in the sea. Washing with cold water does not make much difference when cleaning your clothes after the outing, but it avoids additional spilling, as the hot water breaks down the fibres. Its ubiquity coincides with the rise of fast fashion and cheap synthetic clothing, which washes and sheds 100,000 microfibres a day as sewage flows into rivers and oceans. Scientists are looking for where these fibres appear, whether they explode in the Arctic or on pristine mountain peaks.
A study on the environmental impact of microfibres from laundry showed that an average of 114 mg microfibres per kilogram of washed tissue are released in a normal washing cycle. More than 95 million automatic washing machines release a lot of microfibres and as the world population grows there will be more washing machines in more homes, which means that every day more microfibres are released in the environment and nothing can be done about it. Researchers at Northumbria University have developed a system to measure how many microphones were released in each wash cycle. In a study of U.S.
sanctuaries, 70 percent of the synthetic particles that researchers caught in their samples were microfibers. Some scientists have speculated that microfibers could be more dangerous than microbeads.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) launched a new campaign called Stop Ocean Threads that calls for all new washing machines to be equipped with microfibre filters by 2024. The aim is to stop plastic pollution at its source by filtering microscopic plastics out of the wastewater of washing machines. A significant proportion of the microfibres released during the laundry cycle can be prevented from entering the environment by redesigning washing machines including filtering technology.