Preserving the Environment

The Problem With Your Washing Machine That’s Hard to See But Impossible to Ignore

November 4, 2014
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The Problem With Your Washing Machine That’s Hard to See But Impossible to Ignore
Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment - ending up in our oceans. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Ecologist Mark Browne is trying to stop one of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution: clothes.

How does doing the laundry cause pollution?

According to a 2011 study from ecologist Mark Browne, in an average wash, 1900 fibers come off a single synthetic piece of clothing such as polyester, acrylic and nylon. What’s scary is that these tiny plastic fibers — aka microplastics — are released into waterways around the globe. In his paper, Browne wrote that microplastic was found on every site he visited. That’s 18 coasts on six continents, from the earth’s poles to the equator.

As the Guardian reports from Browne’s study, 85 percent of man-made material found on coastlines were microfibers. Unsuspecting marine animals are also eating these synthetic particles, which means it can possibly enter the food chain.

“We found that these particles of plastic can transfer, once they have been ingested they can transfer from their gut to their circulatory system i.e. into their blood and accumulate in their blood cells and they are still there months later,” Browne said in an interview. “So our major concern is that there could be infiltration of this material into the food chain and so we really need to understand how much is in the environment and whether or not animals in the food chain have been affected.”

So that’s how innocently washing our clothes can cause pollution — and this is clearly a big problem.

MORE: How States Are Hunting Down This Cosmetic Culprit of Pollution

However, unlike the prominent fight to ban cosmetic microbeads, getting clothing and appliance companies to help stop the shedding of microplastics has been an uphill climb.

According to the Guardian, since his study, Browne has asked to partner with popular outdoor apparel companies such as Patagonia, Nike and Polartec to research ways to improve their textile design so it won’t shed as many plastic fibers. Unfortunately, besides women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher, no other company has offered to support him in his research. Browne has also reached out to washing machine manufactures such as Siemens, Dyson and LG to discuss developing filters that can stop microfibers from reaching water, but no answer either.

So if these industries don’t listen, how can we fix this? Don’t buy synthetic fibers such as nylons or fleece. For the ones you already own, try not to wash it as often or choose gentler washing settings. Also stick with natural fibers such as wool, cotton, hemp or silk which break down but don’t harm the environment.

DON’T MISS: 5 Simple Ways to Make Your Wardrobe More Earth-Friendly

 

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