Fighting Microfiber Pollution

Microplastics and Microfibers

Research about microplastics pollution is just starting to emerge among scientists, but it is a major concern.

You may recall attention focused on banning or advocating for the discontinuation of tiny plastic particles in the form of microplastic beads from cosmetics, toothpaste and other consumer products often too small to be filtered by wastewater treatment plants.

These work their way from our sinks and showers through treatment plants and into the oceans, where they make their way into the digestive tracts of sea turtles, sea birds and fish (and, subsequently, humans).  Microplastic waste also includes synthetic microfibers (less than 5mm in length) detached from synthetic garments—such as polyester fleece, nylon shorts or a wide range of other types of clothing—during washing that get past or around the filter systems in treatment plants.

Fighting Microfiber Pollution

Did you know? Every time you wash certain synthetic fabrics, millions of microfibers are released into the water.

Microfibers are too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants, so they end up in our waterways and oceans, where they wreak havoc on marine animals and the environment.

In fact, a study commissioned by outdoor clothing company Patagonia suggests we could be sending a shocking amount of these fibers — more than 64,000 pounds — into oceans and streams each day!

“Anything from plankton all the way up to whales have been found to have microfibers in their systems,” says Bess Ruff, a project researcher at U.C. Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, which published a study of microfiber pollution in Environmental Science & Technology in September.

According to Ruff and the Bren research team, microfiber pollution is troubling on two levels.

  • First, it means that animals considered to be filter feeders, which eat by straining food particles out of water, are directly intaking the fibers. That category includes oysters and mussels, so the fibers could actually be in the tissue that humans eat.
  • Second, synthetic fibers (unlike natural ones like wool or cotton) are prone to absorbing chemicals. That means microfibers could potentially pick up chemicals while they travel through wastewater treatment plants, or that they could make it into oceans or streams carrying the chemicals originally added to the clothing they came from.

I found this video on Twitter from Dr. Richard Kirby. It’s pretty amazing. You can follow his research here and see plankton ingesting microfiber here.

While microfibers from laundry are not the only source of microfiber pollution, they are part of the problem, a part we can reduce.

Here are 10 ways you can reduce microfiber waste from your wash.

  1. Wash synthetic clothes less frequently and for a shorter duration.
  2. Try to purchase higher quality products as these are likely to shed less fibers during each wash cycle.
  3. Fill up your washing machine. Washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes and fewer fibers released.
  4. Consider switching to a liquid laundry soap. Laundry powder “scrubs” and loosens more microfibers.
  5. Use a colder wash setting. Higher temperature can damage clothes and release more fibers.
  6. Use a front loading instead of top loading washing machine.  Research reveals that top-loading washing machines cause microfiber shedding at a rate almost six times as high as front-loading. (Note: I could not find information on top-loading machines without center agitators.)
  7. Install a washing machine lint filter for your water discharge.
  8. Purchase a microfiber trapping laundry bag or ball.Sustainable laundry: Fighting Microfiber Pollution
  9. Use a septic tank filter to catch microfibers.
  10. Replace your washing machine with a machine with Xeros  technology.

Xeros Technology Group just announced at CES 2018 new residential laundry technology that will “provide consumers with enhanced fabric care, superior cleaning, cost savings and a much more sustainable laundry solution that substantially lowers water usage by up to 50% and addresses the environmental impact of microplastics from synthetic clothing.”  Xeros plans to partner with major manufacturers to make this technology available to consumers everywhere.

Read the press release here.

Xeros XFiltra filtration technology


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