Microfibres Under the Microscope

Here's a really interesting article from our friends at BrandsForGood.com about the impact of microfibres on the environment. 


Jul 11, 2017

Microfibres are the single largest contributor to plastic pollution, despite their microscopic size making them invisible to the naked eye - meaning they are the biggest environmental problem you’ve never seen, let alone heard of.

Up to 30 times smaller than a strand of hair, microfibres are tiny plastic strands most commonly found within garments made from synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester and spandex. Each time we wash our clothes, hundreds of thousands of microfibres detach themselves during the wash cycle, and pass through our washing machine filters due to their minuscule size. The escapee fibres then work their way to treatment plants where they again bypass filtering systems and reside in our waterways. This process happens every time we wash our clothes, resulting in 190,000 tonnes of them making their way into our oceans every year… 

A 2011 paper found that microfibres made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. Which is a fairly daunting statistic when you consider this to be six times the amount of solid plastics such as bottles, bags and wrappers currently polluting the ocean… The size and buoyant nature of microfibres also mean that they are easily ingested by marine species. The tiny strands of plastic get caught in digestive systems of marine life, and can loop around organs of smaller marine organisms - posing a severe risk to the health of a vast majority of sea creatures.

Consequently this also poses a threat on human health via the consumption of contaminated seafood. Studies suggest that one third of the food we eat has been polluted with microfibres, carrying toxic chemicals into our bodies. Although researchers are yet to determine the true effects that microfibres can have on the human body, we can assume that any impacts on human health will not be positive. 

Some manufacturers are opting for natural plant and animal derived fibres, such as cotton and wool, in response to market demand for better quality clothing with a more positive environmental impact. Although these fabrics still shed microfibres, the amount is significantly less as natural fibres biodegrade over time, causing less damage to marine life and the environment. By reducing our use of synthetic products and investing in garments of high quality, made from natural or organic fabrics we can individually play our role in minimising our contribution to microfibre pollution. With washing machines facilitating the pollution of microfibres, it’s also important that we only wash our clothes when necessary. Unnecessary washing of clothing reduces garment life and increases the number of microfibres released into waterways.  

Currently, there are no technologies or products on the market that completely eliminate microfibres, so it’s our responsibility to make more conscious purchase decisions that reflect quality products and actively engage in smarter garment care habits. Check out the Care Label Project for tips on understanding washing instructions and maximising the life of your clothing. 

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