A new study demonstrates that the fight against ocean pollution begins at home.
With microplastic pollution now understood to be an emerging threat to ocean health, the Ocean Wise Plastics Lab in Vancouver investigated one of the potential sources of this problem.
The loss of fibers by textiles during home laundry may explain in part the abundance of microfibers found in the ocean, says Katerina Vassilenko, Mathew Watkins, Stephen Chastain, Anna Posacka and Peter Ross, the authors of the report titled ‘Me, My Clothes and the Ocean: The role of textiles in microfiber pollution‘.
One of the major problems associated with microplastics is that they can be mistaken for food and ingested by marine wildlife.
With limited research on the propensity of textiles to shed during laundry, the researchers’ goal was to generate a wider dataset on the microfiber footprint of different fabrics.
Over a two-year period, the Plastics Lab evaluated the shedding properties of 37 textile samples constructed with polyester, nylon, and natural and mixed fibers. The Plastics Lab team established a custom-designed washing machine test facility and a dedicated high-resolution analytical laboratory, both in Vancouver.
In this study, the researchers estimate that the average household in Canada and the U.S. releases 533 million microfibers – or 135 g – from laundry into the wastewater treatment system every year. Following wastewater treatment, that adds up to a collective release by households in both countries of 3.5 quadrillion (3.5 x 1015) microfibers – or 878 tonnes – to the aquatic environment (freshwater and ocean). That’s the equivalent weight of 10 blue whales – every year.
Apparel makers and retailers will benefit from this research as a foundation for designing textiles that are less prone to microfiber shedding.
Consumers can also help reduce microfiber pollution in the following ways:
- Wash textiles less often.
- Buy products designed to last and say “no” to fast fashion.
- Use a front-loading washing machine.
- Buy a lint trap for your washing machine.
- Let clothing firms know that this is important to you the consumer, and ask that they design fabrics that shed less.