A Plastic Pollution Source That May Never Have Crossed Your Mind

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Sun, salt, and sand is a cure all.

And as many of us already know, a blissful trip to the beach can often be spoiled by the presence of litter, especially those nasty non-biodegradable plastic types. Plastic in our oceans isn’t just unsightly, it is also damaging to marine ecosystems with many animals mistaking our litter for food. From the picture below it’s pretty easy to see why a hungry sea turtle might mistake a balloon or plastic bag for a jellyfish (I know I would be moving pretty quick smart if that balloon started brushing up against me in surf…man that looks like a jellyfish). Plastics also break into smaller pieces called nurdles (a super cute name for a yucky form of pollution) which contribute to an oceanic soup of micro pollution. With water so laden with teeny tiny plastic bits, the man made stuff becomes a part of all oceanic flows. Gross hey? So some of this might not come as a surprise to you. Especially when most drains here in Australia have warnings on them to let you know what anything you throw down them will end up in the creeks, rivers and oceans. What might surprise you is the link between your laundry and ocean plastics in the following study by some fancy research scientists.

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Pill balls and planet pollution.

There are many reasons why some folks choose to buy synthetic fibre types. They are easy to wash and wear, dry fast, don’t wrinkle too much, have great water repelling qualities (like tents, umbrellas and rain jackets), and usually don’t need ironing. Lots of folks who opt out of animal based fibres like wool, silk, and leather due to ethical concerns will choose alternatives made from petrochemicals. Polyester, nylon, polyamide, elastane, and the like are all made from the same source material that many of our takeaway containers are made from, which is a nonrenewable oil based resource. When you choose to buy a fluffy acrylic sweater over a wool one, you are likely to experience pilling or shedding with wear (something that occurs with both fibre types it’s just that wool is biodegradable). These little microfibres are teeny tiny bits of plastic. When you throw that sweater in the wash it’s safe to assume that these little bits of plastic will end up in the water but it’s likely that, until now, that thought hadn’t really crossed your mind. So where do these teeny tiny washing related plastics end up? A study by into oceanic shoreline pollution by Browne et. Al has shown that polyester and acrylic micro plastics (these are plastics of <1mm) were present on the ocean shorelines they sampled. Curious about how these micro plastic fires ended up there, the team tested their wash and wear theories with a domestic washing machine and came up  with some shocking results, finding that a single garment could produce >1900 fibres per wash. A result that goes to show that sometimes ethical alternatives aren’t always environmentally sustainable ones. Which means that if you choose to shop Vegan for environmental reasons, that petrochemical fibres might not be an alternative that sits will with your values set. So what does this mean for the synthetics in our closets? Obviously you will have to wash your synthetic clothing as some point so this shedding isn’t something you can get around. My suggestions would be to wash as infrequently as possible (only when visibly dirty or smelly) and to use a fabric comb to remove loose fibres prior to washing as you can put them in the bin rather than down the sink. Avoidance of synthetics that are prone to shedding (acrylic knits, synthetic leather as it flakes and sheds with age, and boucle polyester jackets or faux wool felt hats) would be the best strategy.

plastic_pollution_2 Plastic Free July.

If you are keen to learn more about how to reduce your plastic pollution then look no further than Plastic Free July. Every year the Plastic Free July team provide encouragement, resources, and inspiration on how to reduce your  waste over the month of July by refusing single use plastic. It can seem a little daunting at first but once you get the (biodegradable) ball rolling a waste reduction lifestyle is a fun and challenging quest. Be sure to check out the Plastic Free July website if you feel like taking a month to look at your waste stream and become a planet saver from the comfort of your own home.

Did you know about this dirty little laundry secret already? Perhaps you are shocked and horrified? Maybe you have some fibre shedding reduction tips? Sharing is caring.

Author: Katie

Katie Roberts is a self confessed 'write-a-holic' Environmental Scientist with a passion for Sustainable Fashion.

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