We’ve discussed the problem of microplastics polluting our oceans at great lengths on this program before. Much of the small plastic particles result from the breakdown of plastic litter, such as plastic bags, packaging, and other materials. Another source is microbeads, which are often found in health products such as face scrubs and even some toothpastes. But there is a another source of microplastic pollution that is quite troubling: dirty laundry.
Recent research from the University of Leeds in the U.K. and highlighted by the BBC has revealed the unexpected environmental cost of the very clothing on our backs. Increasingly, our clothing is being made from plastic-based synthetic fibers – polyester, acrylic, and the like. The researchers discovered that polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibers with each washing, sending yet another source of plastic pollution down the drain and eventually into the ocean. Thirteen pounds of fabric – an average sized load of laundry – can release the following fiber counts: 140,000 fibers from a polyester-cotton blend, 500,000 fibers from a polyester load, and more than 700,000 fibers from an acrylic wash.
These plastic fibers can be found inside fish, in deep ocean sediments, as well as floating in surface waters. It is well-known that marine life such as birds and fish ingest microplastics in alarming amounts.
This research reveals that doing something as innocent as washing laundry may be releasing significant amounts of microplastics into the ocean. The researchers are calling on changes to happen at the design stage to improve the quality and durability of fabrics in order to make them better for the environment.
Who knew there could be dirty laundry on dirty laundry?
Dirty laundry: Are your clothes polluting the ocean?
Photo, posted August 7, 2015, courtesy of CDA via Flickr.
‘Dirty Laundry’ from Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.