Microplastic Pollution And Clothes Washing

Although though I’m very aware of the effect of plastics on the environment, I have to admit I have more than my fair share of polyester blend clothing.

I justify (rationalize) it through wearing the clothing until it just about falls off me. Often the items can’t even be used as rags.

I’m still regularly wearing items I bought in 1994, much to the dismay of some. Some of those items could hardly be called clothing now as they are so thin. I never really gave much thought that aspect until I recently read about microplastic pollution.

One of the ways clothing thins out is while it is being washed. According to a recent podcast from the American Chemical Society, more than 1,900 tiny fibers can rinse off a garment during a single wash.

Let’s see.. this circa 1994 top I’m wearing right now gets worn once a week, so washed the same.

– 52 weeks in a year
– 17 years since I bought it
– 884 washes
– 1,900 fibers lost per wash
– 1,679,600 fibers lost

.. and looking at the t-shirt now, that seems about right.

I shouldn’t make light of this as there is a more serious side.

The tiny plastic fibers that end up going down the drain and into our waterways and oceans can contain harmful chemicals. The fibers are ingested by marine creatures such as shellfish and fish, which can then be transferred back to us when we eat seafood.

According to scientists researching the threat to marine organisms, “Ingested microplastic can transfer and persist in their cells for months.”

While 1,900 tiny fibers per garment mightn’t seem much, even when we wash a full load of such garments; we need to bear in mind we are not the only ones contributing to this pollution.

Not surprisingly, after a survey of 18 coastlines, microplastic pollution was found to be more prevalent on the shores of areas with larger populations and the researchers were able to trace a major source of it to washing machines.

This might not be right up there in terms of environmental threats, but the problem is reportedly becoming more serious. The researchers want designers to find ways to minimise this shedding and for effective filtering in sewage waste water treatment plants.

This additional downside to synthetic fibers will make it just that little bit harder a decision to purchase polyester blend clothes I guess; whether it will be enough to finally tip the balance and get me out of the habit of putting price and convenience over environmental issues at times remains to be seen.

The other question microplastic pollution raises is in regard to the green credentials of microfiber cloths.

More on microplastic pollution from our clothes