Plastic, not Fantastic!
What’s the scariest concept your mind could possibly elicit? I’m sure your mind could conjure up a few- going off European history alone. But I’m going to throw out ‘microplastics’ or just ‘plastic’ full stop as my blood-curdling fearful concept of choice. It also happens to be at the pinnacle of my climate change anxiety mind mountain. Why?
Well, the fact that millions of trillions of microfibres (fabric pieces less than 5mm) are entering our waterways every time we wash our clothes is frightening, the fact that they are swimming around being consumed by the fish we then eat is terrifying and the crème de la crème of the lot is that microplastics are virtually in everything from toothpaste, body wash and all synthetic clothes.. even the ones made from PET recycled plastic bottles. Beauty products do pose a problem but new research actually shows that 70% of microplastics pollutants are microfibres, coming from our clothes (Kathmandu, 2019).
Which means that us fashion fiends have some work to do, as we are the buyers deciding what fabrics we invest our pennies in, as well as the people who control how our garments are washed and how frequently. Even if you tried to avoid all the microfibres yourself and CORA ball or guppy proofed your washing machine, there is no escaping the fact that millions of people around the world are not accessing this information, nor might they be in the privileged position to purchase said $50 microfibre detecting piece of armoury. Part of the problem then lies in companies like Colgate or Coles selling cheap products, filled with these plastics and making it an appealing option due to their lower price point.
"Beauty products do pose a problem but new research actually shows that 70% of microplastics pollutants are microfibres, coming from our clothes"
Now here comes the heavy hitter. 80% of microfibres being shed from clothes come off in the first wash. Research from 2015 by the University of California, also shows that a single piece of synthetic clothing can release up to 250,000 microfibres every time it’s washed. Wastewater treatment plants do filter out 60–90%, but if you take this figure and consider a town with a population of 100,000 people, the result would equate to flushing the equivalent of 15,000 plastic shopping bags into the environment every single day.
Please give me hope, you’re depressing me I hear you say. Well friend, the pressure put on us is immense and why should it be? If the government was to regulate this better by imposing a law that outlined the responsibility to be then put onto companies to wash all garments the very first time prior to selling, so that they can capture these microfibres themselves using their advanced technologies rather than our trusty washing machines at home. Or maybe just prohibit clothes made from synthetic fibres altogether to enter the country? The first option, is definitely more realistic though.
What can I do about it?
Well, your washing machine might make a difference. Initial research shows that top loaders shed seven times more fibres than front loaders. You can also invest in a Guppy Friend (a washing filter bag that traps microfibres so they don’t leave your washing machine) or a Cora Ball which is a microfibre filter that you throw in with your washing. You can also get a plumber to install an after-market filter to stop clothing lint at its source. The simplest solution is really to wash less, and when you do wash, make sure it’s the shortest, most economic cycle setting and on cold as more microfibers are released when the tem perature is warmer. Washing less makes a substantial difference in your carbon footprint, as the biggest environmental impact comes not from the manufacturing or the disposal, but when the product is used as it’s the water and energy usage that adds up.
Another thing you can do is make your voice heard. Industry-wide change comes fastest when there is consumer pressure. Ask your favourite brands what steps they’re taking to address this issue. Message your local member of parliament representative on Instagram or email them to speak of what your concerns are and what you wish to see happen in our immediate future. Support any bans on plastic in your community by signing up for petitions and legislation.
"Industry-wide change comes fastest when there is consumer pressure. Support any bans on plastic in your community by signing up for petitions and legislation."
Avoid using any products that contain microbeads. They are usually found in face scrubs, body wash, toothpaste and these miniature beads of evil easily enter our oceans and waterways through the sewers and affect hundreds of marine species. You can also check the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products to see if they list “polyethylene” and “polypropylene” as these are plastic microbeads. Scientists conducted a study Europe-wide and they discovered up to nine different types of plastic in the faeces of every person who participated. The research showed that on aver age 20 microplastic particles in every 10 grams of stool, proving that humans are swallowing them in food (Independent, 2018). From take-away coffee cups where the plastic lining melts when boiling hot liquid is poured in, to beer and seafood, we are now up to the stage of ingesting plastic regularly, it’s not just the animals that are being affected.