Jun. 5—Dear Tee Cee,
I very much enjoy reading the Tee Cee column every Monday. A topic I have not seen covered is microplastic waste discharged from washing synthetic clothes. Microplastic waste is starting to show up in human tissue and throughout the biologic web of life. When I became aware of this issue a few years ago, I purchased a microplastic washing bag and now wash all my synthetic clothes (fleece) in it.
Thanks for raising this often overlooked, but growing, source of plastic pollution. Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces less than five millimeters long resulting from the breakdown of plastic products. These micropollutants can be found almost everywhere on Earth, from the depths of our oceans to rainwater samples taken from the mountaintops in Rocky Mountain National Park, indicating that it is literally raining plastic.
These plastics are so small they are working their way into our air, soil, food, water and our bodies. A recent study published in Environment International reports that researchers found plastic in the blood of 17 of 22 of study participants, or about 77%.
As you point out, Moira, one of the many sources of microplastics is from our households, when plastic particles slough off from synthetic clothing in our washing machines.
Many types of clothing and textiles contain synthetic plastic fibers, including polyester, acrylic and nylon. Fleece is made of polyester and is one of the most significant contributors to microplastic fiber pollution. While we might point to our lint filters on our dryers as an example of textile microplastics, it's much more problematic that microplastics are released during the washing process.
While wastewater treatment plants capture some microplastic fibers, some microplastic fibers are so tiny they can make their way through wastewater treatment plants and pollute the environment and water cycle. Since plastic, including microplastics, never fully biodegrade and integrate into the environment, they accumulate over time.
You can take action to reduce microplastic fiber pollution:
— Buy clothing made from natural fibers, such as cotton, bamboo, linen or hemp.
— Buy more-durable clothing. Durable, higher-quality synthetic clothes shed fewer microplastic fibers than cheaper "fast fashion" clothes and last much longer because the threads are more tightly woven together.
— Prevent microplastics from escaping your washing machine. As you've shared, Moira, some companies are taking on microplastic fiber pollution with innovative products. Guppyfriend washing machine bags are designed to trap microplastic fibers. You simply place your synthetic clothing inside the bag, and the mesh of the bag traps the fibers.
— There are even microplastic filters that can be retrofitted to washing machines. Hopefully, these filters will become standard in newer washing machines.
Still, microplastic washing machine filters, washing bag filters and clothes made with natural fibers are not accessible to everyone. While individual behavior change is key to creating change, what is really needed is more understanding of the problems, the solutions and larger systemic change.
To learn more about microplastics and their solutions, check out Eco-Cycle's webinar training on the topic. Search for "Eco-Cycle Eco-Leader 2.0 Microplastics webinar" on YouTube.
If you have a question or would like to learn more about a Zero Waste topic, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 303-444-6634.