I have always thought that fleeces were a very practical use for recycled PET bottles - warm, light, quick drying, comfortable... But, as usual, there is a downside. Recent scientific studies have shown an unexpected source for the rising amounts of plastics found in our oceans: microfibres from man-made fabrics like fleeces are finding their way into the sea - and therefore the food chain - via our washing machines!
A new study has found that when you wash fleeces and other synthetic fabrics, miniscule threads of plastic seep through filters and escape into the environment. Browne, lead author of the new study, estimates that more than 65 percent of plastic debris in the sea is smaller than one millimeter in diameter - and scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the harm these tiny bits might be causing. Marine microplastics can penetrate the cells of even the tiniest organisms, affecting the way they function and raising all sorts of health concerns for both sea creatures and the people that eat them. Moreover, plastic particles in the water are not only hazardous for their own potential toxicity but also because they adsorb the pollutants in the water around them.
Yet currently there are no requirements for manufacturers to test fabrics for their environmental impact or for filtration processes of waste water to eliminate this potentially damaging source of pollution.
“Consumers have the power when they go into a store to ask whether clothing has been tested for its impact on the environment,” said Browne. “If more and more consumers started doing that, it would then put pressure on the people who actually produce clothes to do something about it.”
To gauge the extent of the microplastic problem, Browne and colleagues collected and tested sediment samples from 18 shorelines on six continents. Microplastics were not just ubiquitous, the team reported in Environmental Science & Technology. Concentrations were also highest in the most densely populated countries. Places that produce the most waste, in other words, suffer the most from their waste.
More food for thought about our dependence on plastics...