A new report by the Canadian non-profit organization Ocean Wise revealed that 878 tonnes of microfibers are entering US and Canadian waters annually. Even assuming that wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) filter 95% of the microplastics, this investigation calculated that 533 million microfibers flow into the oceans, lakes, and rivers every year from an average home.
Polyester pollutes the most
The study, which tested textile samples from different apparel brands and filtered out the microfibers, also showed that polyester was the fabric that polluted the most. Fleece was the main culprit, shedding 0.778 grams for every kg washed. In comparison, nylon was much less polluting: 0.027 grams per kg washed.
Besides polyester, the Ocean Wise Plastics Lab also tested cotton, wool, nylon (sometimes mixed with spandex), as well as different yarn types, textile
All of the tested textiles (natural and synthetic) shed significant amounts of microfibers, with an average of 0,16% of the mass of a textile sample lost every time it was washed. The density of the textile seemed to play a role in the shedding, as thicker fabrics released more fibers, especially polyester ones compared to nylon.
Fleece: the biggest offender
The cheap and light-weight replacement for wool, polyester fleece, is a hazard because of the way it’s made: the fibers are short, which makes the fleece yarn very weak. In addition to laundering, manufacturing and wearing are also a big cause of microfiber release.
To reduce microplastic pollution, consumers can add a PlanetCare microfiber filter to their washing machines, which stops 90% of the microfibers.
What is the impact of microfibers in human lungs?
Preliminary results of the effects of synthetic fibers in human lungs show that nylon fibers hinder the growth of lungs. Researcher Fransien van Dijk from the University of Groningen presented the first preliminary research results in October during the Plastic Health Summit. Surprisingly enough, she discovered that while defense cells in the lungs (macrophages) attack the nylon fibers, they leave polyester untouched. More results of her and her colleagues’ research in the next edition of the Plastic Health Summit!