A study from the Vancouver-based Ocean Wise organization is offering ideas to help ocean life with a change to an everyday chore.
They looked at microfibers, any fiber under 5 mm long, which are polluting the world’s oceans and can be found anywhere from a kilometer under the Arctic Ocean to the dinner plate (inside seafood). A common source for microfibers is the laundry, and a filter added to a washing machine may be a big help reducing the amount of polyester microfiber entering nature, according to a press release from Ocean Wise.
“Two different, easily accessible, washing machine lint traps– LINTLUV-R and Filtrol – and found up to 90 % of polyester microfibers were captured,” states the not-for-profit in the release.
The study estimates the average household generates only about 135 g of microfibers per year, but that adds up. In Canada and the USA it’s estimated 22,000 tonnes of fiber leave households. That’s 85,000,000,000,000,000 individual fibers. Up to 80 per cent are caught in wastewater treatment plants, with the rest entering the water cycle, according to the study (though some of the microfibers end up in biosolids, which may lead back to the wider environment).
On top of the filters, which the public can use at home to catch potentially harmful fibers, the study authors also noted clothing manufacturers can do more to make sure fabrics don’t shed as many microfibers.
“What this study clearly demonstrates is that clothing brands and manufactures have a unique opportunity to incorporate these findings into designing for more ocean-friendly products,” says the organization’s Director for Plastics, Laura Hardman.
The study found the highest shedding fabrics gave off more than 800 times the number of microfibers than the lowest shedding material. They also found that most microfibres were lost in the first wash. The study notes clothing brands could make an impact on the amount of microfibers entering the water cycle by changing manufacturing methods.
Ocean Wise also suggests washing machine manufacturers begin adding microfiber filters to washing machines.