Macro problems from micro fibres

As I changed the load of dried clothes in the dryer, I also emptied the lint container that was totally covered with fibres from the polyester cotton blended shirts that I enjoy wearing. They are comfortable and easy to care for. But week after week, fibers fill the filter that is usually emptied after each load of wash. It sparked a memory of a segment I had watched on television.

Several weeks ago, CBS News did a program on plastics in the ocean. They were not talking about the large visible plastics that are easy to see floating on the surface, but the small microscopic fibres that are showing up in most of the animals of the oceans. The researchers estimated that billions of tons of those microscopic fibres are coming from the clothes wash water of homes around the world.

Sheri Mason, a professor at New York State University-Fredonia has found that microfibres are the second most common debris found in Lake Michigan. Mark Browne, a senior researcher at the University of New South Wales Australia, has determined that 85 per cent of the debris found on the shores of oceans are microfibres.

Friends of the Earth estimate that one single load of washing could be putting up to 17 million plastic particles into the water system that makes its way into our rivers and lakes and eventually the oceans. A single washing of a fleece jacket releases just over a gram of fabric. Most goes down the sewer, but some is caught in the lint filters of dryers and some is spun off into the air.

Those microplastic particles are showing up all over the world, including the Arctic Ocean. And they are entering the food chain and eventually making their way back into our digestive tracts. Those microfibres have been found in the most unusual places and have even shown up in bottled beer.

The most important part is that the polyesters and the fabrics that create warm jackets, soft sweaters and easy-care fabrics don’t break down in time as do the historic fibres of silk, wool, cotton, bamboo or hemp. Many of our clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. In fact, most new fabrics are made of plastics.

We enjoy these new fabrics. They don’t shrink. They need little ironing and it’s just wash and wear. And today, because they are cheap, we can accept the change of styles annually.

We don’t know how these fibres will affect us in the future. Will we find these fibres in the vegetables and fruit we eat? We already understand that the fibres are found in ocean shrimp, shellfish and many of the species of fish caught around the world showing up in our meat cases.

I had never given any thought to the fact that modern clothes were a cause of pollution.

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