Microplastics – The Scope of the Problem
Microplastics enter water sources mainly through the washing of synthetic textiles in laundry washing machines which results in the contaminated discharge entering into wastewater. The results of studies on the amount of particles released during wash cycles range from 6 million microfibers per 5 kilograms of wash load to 250,000 during the washing of just a single fleece jacket. It has been reported that microfibers made up 85% of found human-made debris on shorelines across the world.
Currently, little is known about the effects of microplastics on health. However, it is particularly worrying that microplastics have attractive properties towards other harmful substances such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as well as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs), which are particularly harmful to health. These pollutants consequently enter the food chain together in combination with the microplastics. Microplastics can be detected in many water-based food sources including salt, fish and mussels and have even been found in human and animal excrement.
At present, sewage and wastewater treatment plants do not have the technical capacity to filter out and remove microplastics. An upgrade of these treatment plants as well as at-home technical filter solutions for washing machines are urgently needed. As part of the ongoing problem, action must also be taken towards environmentally-friendly and health-conscious fiber solutions in the textile industry.
For more information, please refer to the following article: De Falco, F., et al., Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics, Environmental Pollution (2017), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.057
For more information, please refer to: Overview about recent findings and solutions by Surfrider Foundation
For more information, please refer to the video detailing the problem of microfibers: