Nature’s Voice: Waste in our Oceans that is Hardly Visible
Last time I wrote about how plastic bags and microbeads affect the life in our oceans. Unfortunately there is another aspect of industrial pollution, one that is less visible.
It has recently been revealed that the source of 85 % of human debris on shorelines around the world is hidden and unseen because it is microfibre, according to recent research by the University of New South Wales. Many companies recycle plastic bottles to make microfibre cloth. A huge amount of the fibres eventually end up in our waterways and oceans. Recycling plastic bottles and breaking them into millions of fibrous pieces may in fact be worse than sending them to a landfill?
Every time you wash clothes made of modified acrylic, polypropylene, viscose, polyester, and acrylic, such as fleece, trousers, blouses, socks, and even your beloved yoga pants, millions of microfibres are released into the water. These tiny microfibres cannot be filtered out by waste treatment plants, and eventually pollute our waterways and oceans, where they create havoc on marine animals and the environment. Incredibly, fish and shellfish sold in Indonesia and California for human consumption contain microfibre, so ironically the “modern” diet contains plastics.
What can we do? The best thing is not to buy microfibre, and definitely avoid cheaply made fast fashion clothes. If you do have such clothes you can reduce microfibre particles being washed out to sea by washing synthetic clothes less frequently and for shorter cycles. A full, rather than a small load results in less friction between clothes and fewer fibres being released. Laundry powder is more abrasive and tends to “scrub” and loosen the microfibre, a liquid laundry soap avoids the scrubbing. Colder water temperature settings and low spin also reduce the amount of fibre waste in each wash.
These days, some washing machines are available with lint filters, which is beneficial for the septic tank system as well as the environment. The lint from the clothes dryer needs to go into the waste not washed down the drain. A wash bag also reduces the waste going down the drain. A couple of German surfies and owners of a surfing and outdoor apparel shop have been very concerned about this pollution and have developed a solution, a mesh laundry bag that captures the fibres.
We have two options to avoid this hidden pollution by stealth created by this monster, the microfibre. We can avoid buying anything that is made with microfibre, which includes many cleaning cloths, and take all the simple but necessary steps to reduce the tiny particles being washed into the environment. Furthermore, we can make people more aware of this invisible environmental problem which day by day is doing huge damage to our marine and freshwater environments.
Ines Stäger is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.