New research released by environmental charity Hubbub reveals that 44 percent of people in the UK don’t realize that synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic or nylon are actually plastic. Despite that synthetic clothing is on the rise – it now accounts for an estimated 60 percent of all clothing produced – many are unaware of what the microfibres they release and the resulting threats to the environment.
Whilst 71 percent are aware of plastic microbeads and their impact on the environment, only 56 percent know what microfibres are and these actually pose a much bigger problem. Half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres a year contribute to ocean pollution – 16 times more than the plastic microbeads from cosmetics. An estimated 35 percent of primary microplastics entering our oceans are released through the washing of textiles.
On top of the negative effects microfibres have on marine ecosystems, they are also posing health risks to humans. Studies have shown that plastic microfibres can be found in many of our foods, from fish and mussels to table salt, honey and beer. Plastic microfibres absorb toxic chemicals and the long-term health impact of consuming these fibres has yet to be fully established. Evidence given to the UK House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee in 2016 raised concerns about the impact on critical diseases, health conditions and hormones.
People are rightfully concerned: 69 percent are concerned about the impact microfibres are having on ocean life; 56 percent are concerned about the fact that they or their family might be eating microfibres; and 68 percent want to see more research into the long-term health implications of the microfibres in the food we eat.
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“Plastic microfibres are ending up in our waterways, ecosystems and in our food and drink and we don't yet know what impact this will have. The issue is complicated and the messages are confusing,” said Hubbub CEO Trewin Restorick. “Our research suggests that levels of knowledge and awareness around microfibres amongst the public are low, so today we’re launching some clear actions that consumers can take to help reduce the amount of microfibres released from household washing.”
Hubbub’s new #WhatsInMyWash campaign will provide tips for consumers to reduce the impacts of washing their clothes, as well as call on industry actors to take action and do their part to tackle the problem.
“There is also an urgent need for more research and action at an industrial level – from exploring better filter systems in water treatment plants and washing machines to producing and selling clothes with less blends and tighter yarns,” Restorick added. “It is critical that more is done to explore the potential impact on our health of eating food that contain these plastic particles.”
Hubbub suggests that retailers can help reduce the number of microfibres released into waterways through commitments to making and selling clothing out of higher-quality fabrics which are less likely to release microfibres, such as fabrics which contain longer fibres, avoiding fabrics or designs which require polyblends, and communicating with customers how you can take better care of clothing to reduce the release of microfibres.
Those actions that customers can take include seven suggestions that will be promoted by Hubbub’s campaign:
- Buy higher-quality clothes, which are more durable and provide more wears. Synthetic clothes ending up in landfill are a growing source of secondary microplastic pollution because they gradually break down into micro sized plastic particles.
- Wash clothes only when you need to. Microfibres are released in the wash, so if you can get another wear out of something, let it air instead.
- Wash clothes at a lower temperature (30 degrees C). This will prevent them from wearing faster, which can lead to more microfibre release.
- Use a full load and wash on a shorter, gentler cycle; this reduces friction on your clothes which causes microfibres to shred and clothes to wear.
- Avoid the tumble dryer, they can wear your clothes out increasing the likelihood of microfibre release on the next wash. Your clothes will stay in shape for longer too!
- If you have a condenser tumble dryer the liquid collected may contain plastic microfibres - don't empty it down the sink.
- Pledge your support for more research and industry action on the issue, visit www.whatsinmywash.org.uk
“The global retail industry is undergoing an unprecedented conversation about the impact of microplastics in the environment and in our daily lives,” said Peter Ackroyd, COO of the Campaign for Wool. “As our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales said recently, ‘I find it sobering to think that almost all the plastic ever produced is still here somewhere on the planet in one form or another and will remain here for centuries to come, possibly thousands of years.’ A return to great quality, long lasting clothing made from natural fibres can help remedy this and we would urge the public to check clothes labels when shopping and look for fabrics that don’t add to this problem.”