Microfibers and Microplastics in our waters

Water pollution can’t be seen by the naked eye

Now that’s what I call high quality microfibers… Erm I mean H2O. So says Bobby Boucher from The Waterboy. That is, if Bobby knew what we were really drinking. Unlike the mild-mannered water fanatic/crazy linebacker, most of us aren’t so discerning when it comes to our own H2O. But maybe we should be. Bobby wouldn’t want us to drink polluted water full of microfibers and chemicals that make us sick. But that is exactly what we are drinking. And it’s what that fish on your dinner plate ate too: microplastics and microfiber. And the worst part? We are directly responsible for poisoning our own drinking water every time we wash our clothes.

Illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi

Illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi

So what are microfibers?

They are the tiny fibers and threads from our clothes that are shed each time we run our clothes in the washer. And they are poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. Studies have found that there is an abundance of microfiber pollution on shorelines where wastewater is released. According to UK’s Guardian, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. The researchers also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new ones. After the microfibers make their way from your washing machine into the sewers, they then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans and eventually, into the bodies of aquatic animals like crabs, fishes and lobsters. Synthetic microfibers are dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain by bioaccumulating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, eventually making its way inside you.

2015 study found that one in three shellfish and one in four finfish sampled at a California fish market contained microfibers, and these fish were headed straight for the dinner table. It is estimated that people could be unknowingly ingesting 11,000 microfibers each year from shellfish consumption, and 178 microfibers from eating a single musselWhat’s more, in a 2011 study, Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Australia, found that microfibers made up 85% of man-made debris on shorelines around the world.

So says Bobby Boucher from The Waterboy. That is, if Bobby knew what we were really drinking. Unlike the mild-mannered water fanatic/crazy linebacker, most of us aren't so discerning when it comes to our own H2O. But maybe we should be. Bobby wouldn't want us to drink polluted water full of microfibers and chemicals that make us sick. But that is exactly what we are drinking. And it's what that fish on your dinner plate ate too: microplastics and microfiber. And the worst part? We are directly responsible for poisoning our own drinking water every time we wash our clothes. So what are microfibers? They are the tiny fibers and threads from our clothes that are shed each time we run our clothes in the washer. And they are poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. Studies have found that there is an abundance of microfiber pollution on shorelines where wastewater is released. According to UK's Guardian, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. The researchers also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new ones. After the microfibers make their way from your washing machine into the sewers, they then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans and eventually, into the bodies of aquatic animals like crabs, fishes and lobsters. Synthetic microfibers are dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain by bioaccumulating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, eventually making its way inside you. A 2015 study found that one in three shellfish and one in four finfish sampled at a California fish market contained microfibers, and these fish were headed straight for the dinner table. It is estimated that people could be unknowingly ingesting 11,000 microfibers each year from shellfish consumption, and 178 microfibers from eating a single mussel. What's more, in a 2011 study, Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Australia, found that microfibers made up 85% of man-made debris on shorelines around the world. What can you do? Companies in the apparel industry have been slow to react to this newly discovered form of clothing pollution. But it's not all doom and gloom: brands that have built their businesses with environmental concerns in mind have been some of the first to pay attention to the growing microfiber issue. Outdoor apparel firms like Patagonia and Columbia Sportswear and 18 others have been studying the issue through the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), a trade group consisting of about 1,300 companies around the world. At the grassroots level, there is much that you, the consumer, can do. One way to address the problem is to reduce the amount of times your clothes gets washed, and when you do need to wash them, use washing machines with filters installed that catch the microfibers as the dirty water gets dumped. Using front-loading, high efficiency washing machines instead of top-loading washing machines also helps a great deal, as top-loading washing machines releases five times more microfibers than front-loading ones. So. Now that you know what to do, what are you waiting for? Go forth and make Bobby Boucher proud. After all, you wouldn't want the Waterboy to go apeshit linebacker mode on your ass, would you?

This July 28, 2014 photo provided by Rachel Ricotta shows microfibers, exceedingly fine plastic fibers, that were taken from inside the body of a Great Lakes fish. Rachel Ricotta / AP

What can you do?

Companies in the apparel industry have been slow to react to this newly discovered form of clothing pollution. But it’s not all doom and gloom: brands that have built their businesses with environmental concerns in mind have been some of the first to pay attention to the growing microfiber issue. Outdoor apparel firms like Patagonia and Columbia Sportswear and 18 others have been studying the issue through the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), a trade group consisting of about 1,300 companies around the world. At the grassroots level, there is much that you, the consumer, can do. One way to address the problem is to reduce the amount of times your clothes gets washed, and when you do need to wash them, use washing machines with filters installed that catch the microfibers as the dirty water gets dumped. Using front-loading, high efficiency washing machines instead of top-loading washing machines also helps a great deal, as top-loading washing machines releases five times more microfibers than front-loading ones.

So. Now that you know what to do, what are you waiting for? Go forth and make Bobby Boucher proud. After all, you wouldn’t want the Waterboy to go apeshit linebacker mode on your ass, would you?

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About the Author

This is Will, current content coordinator at Trusted Clothes. Will is a writer at heart with a journalism print background. An award-winning writer and video producer, Will divides his time between super-heroing at Trusted Clothes and being a complete die-hard Star Trek fan. And wearing funny Captain Picard shirts too.

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