The Microplastics Problem: What You Can Do About It in Your Laundry

Microplastics Problem

Plastic debris has been detected throughout ocean waters, frozen icebergs and marine animal bodies. When this plastic disintegrates into its component parts it releases harmful chemicals that pollute our ecosystems and contribute to environmental pollution while entering human food chains as well.

Paul Anastas and Leigh Shemitz provide insight on how you can lower your impact to this global issue by switching to natural detergents made from plants for washing clothes.

1. Use a Laundry Ball

Microplastics are among the smallest of all plastics. These microscopic fragments include beads, granules or spheres (think broken-up polystyrene foam), film fragments from plastic bags (think broken plastic bag fragments), microfibers and more – these microscopic particles can be found everywhere from salt, beer and fresh produce to our oceans and rivers – and have become an enormous threat, polluting food chains while poisoning marine life – with recent estimates placing global ocean microplastics at 5 trillion trillion!

As humans, it’s our duty to reduce pollutants as much as possible and one way is using a laundry ball to collect synthetic fibers before flushing them down the drain. These plastic-catching tools resemble washing bags in that they’re designed to fit directly in your washer rather than your dryer. One popular example is Planetcare’s Cora Ball which claims to provide “an easy and effective way” of combatting microfiber pollution. The 4-inch pine-cone-like device is made of soft and stretchy recycled plastic and costs $30. Easy to use, simply place it into your machine along with clothes to be washed, run a cycle, then take out and toss or recycle any tangled piles of fibers that form.

Company guidelines advise cleaning your laundry ball after every load to make sure it works as it should and prolong its lifespan. You could also consider other tools designed to reduce microfiber shedding such as Guppyfriend’s laundry bags or standard mesh laundry bags; though these may be more costly options. These may provide an affordable option; the fabric does catch some microfibers while others still end up entering municipal wastewater systems.

Education and informed choices can help to reduce your impact. Next, push elected officials for policies that limit single-use plastics use and begin talking with your community members about ways to decrease microplastic pollution in their own home or neighborhood.

2. Wash in Cold Water

Textiles are one of the biggest sources of microplastics, shedding microscopic plastic fibers every time they’re washed and washing machines run. Once inside wastewater systems, these water-insoluble synthetic polymer particles enter oceans, lakes and rivers where they become magnets for organic pollutants as well as absorb harmful chemicals like pesticides, detergents, flame retardants and more from wastewater systems before passing down food chains into people, animals and marine life.

However, although it’s virtually impossible to avoid synthetic fabrics entirely, you can take steps to limit how many microfibers are released by each wash. One option is purchasing a laundry filter which attaches directly to your washing machine hose and traps microfibers as they exit; keeping them out of municipal waste systems. There are also accessories you can put into your washer like Guppyfriend washing bags or Cora balls which catch microfibers, or you could purchase an individual lint filter which has been shown to cut microfiber release by up to 80%!

Colder waters weaken fibers and make them less likely to separate from each other during washing, making the clothes less likely to shed microfibers into your wash water. Also, full loads are preferable as one study showed it reduced microfiber loss by half per load.

Help the environment by choosing detergent that does not contain SLS (which produces suds), and switching to liquid detergent sheets or pods which use less water in washing processes than powdered varieties. Furthermore, opt for natural products made with plant-based ingredients and avoid fragranced versions which release microfibers into our waters and ecosystems. Finally, purchase a reusable washing bag for synthetic clothing or switch over to all-natural fabric such as linen or cotton (or recycled plastic in an emergency) such as recycled plastic (this simple step can go a long way toward helping stopping the flow of microplastic pollution into our waters and ecosystems). These steps will go far toward helping stopping this tide of plastic pollution entering our waters and ecosystems!

3. Wash with Detergent

Microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans is staggering; one peer-reviewed estimate puts its number at five trillion, the equivalent of 30 billion half-liter water bottles. Microplastic fragments wash into rivers, lakes and bays where fish or aquatic animals consume them and cause serious health issues including blocked digestive tracts and reduced appetites; they may even absorb harmful chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides into their systems.

Unfortunately, laundry is one of the leading causes of plastic pollution. Each time we wash synthetic clothing such as polyester fleece, nylon and acrylic in the machine, millions of microfibers are released into the environment through abrasion, friction from mechanical action, detergent use and temperature fluctuations as well as direct human skin contact.

Your clothes, whether made of cotton or wool, may still shed fibers to some degree – though much less than synthetic fabrics. But this does not give you peace of mind that your clothing is safe; one wash cycle alone can release millions of microfibers into the wastewater stream due to both their nature and what happens during washing.

Plastic threads released into the environment are virtually unfilterable by most wastewater treatment plants; even though some can remove up to 99 percent of them, leaving millions in the water that zooplankton feed on. Once consumed by larger animals and eventually humans, zooplankton have been shown to contain toxic levels of microplastics that have been shown to pose health threats.

However, there are steps you can take to help lower your laundry’s impact on microplastics pollution. First of all, choose only natural-fiber garments such as cotton and wool (check out our roundup of organic materials meringues, tees and socks! ). Additionally, rather than throwing your laundry in the dryer – consider hanging it outside on a line or drying it naturally in sunlight where heat and abrasion from a dryer can break down microfibers, decreasing their release into the environment.

4. Wash in a High-Efficiency Machine

Microfibers shed from clothing made of synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon during laundry processing, floating through wastewater into waterways where they pollute marine environments or enter food chains; some microfibers even end up in human stool samples and breast milk samples!

Researchers are urgently searching for solutions, and one promising strategy may involve switching your washing machine for one with greater energy and water efficiency. High-efficiency models use less water and energy consumption compared with standard top-loaders commonly found in homes for several generations; in addition, they’re more effective at extracting microfibers from washwater than their older counterparts.

Switch up your laundry load schedule by washing fewer loads. Doing so gives each load less opportunity to shed fibers. A recent study demonstrated that using colder cycle settings reduced microfiber release by an average-sized load by 30%! Also, washing full loads instead of multiple smaller loads reduces friction between clothes which releases microfibers more readily than smaller loads do reducing microfiber release by up to 33%!

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets should be avoided at all costs; not only are these harmful to the environment, but they can cause your clothes to shed additional microfibers while washing in the machine. Tumble drying does also release microfibers so if possible try line-drying your clothing or at least using the lowest heat setting when drying your clothing.

Liquid detergent sheets and packets, laundry pods and laundry powder may appear to contain microplastics; however, that’s simply not the case. Their film coating (PVOH or polyvinyl alcohol) is made up of different polymers than plastics; thus dissolving into washwater.

While these gadgets may help, none can provide an answer to microplastic pollution on its own. Instead, it’s crucial that consumers focus on purchasing sustainable clothes and making smart choices when doing so – such as choosing organic cotton, linen and wool over synthetic polyester and nylon materials in daily wardrobe choices. You could even reach out directly to companies manufacturing such materials to ask them to switch over to safer options!

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