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Synthetic clothing and microplastics pollution in the Oceans

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The washing process of synthetic clothes is the main source of primary microplastic pollution in the Oceans.

A 3-year-old study(1) underlines how the washing process of synthetic clothes releases 124 to 308 mg for Kg of washed textiles products, depending on the type of garments. These values correspond to a number of microfibers in the range 640.000-1.500.000.

the study was carried out on 4 different commercial garments by replicating the typical domestic washing conditions of synthetic clothing, in household washing machines, a load of 2-2.5 kg of identical clothes, liquid detergent.

The garments were:

  • two 100% polyester T-shirts, quite similar but with different fabric structure
  • a polyester T-shirt, with 60% of recycled material
  • a mixed materials T-shirt (polyester, cotton, modal).

 

The first two T-shirts released an average of 935.000 fibers (1.100.000 and 770.000),  the one that includes recycled material released 640.000 microfibers, the mixed material one released 1.500.000 microfibers.

The release of microplastics is due to the mechanical and chemical stresses that the textile fibers undergo during washing. These fibers are spread over a wide range of sizes and the study was conducted so that the wastewater from the washing machine passed through filters of decreasing porosity.

Some of these fibers have a dimension that allows them to pass through wastewater treatment plants and thus reach the Oceans, where they represent 35% (main source) of primary microplastics floating or settling on the seabed.

This is bad news, we already heard many times before, as we well know that these same fibers were found in fishes and shellfishes, the same fishes and shellfishes we could find on the shelf of our markets. So this is an environmental problem, as well as a human problem (as any environmental problem is, actually).

Some of these fibers have a dimension that allows them to pass through wastewater treatment plants and thus reach the Oceans.

As we are already discussing numbers, here are other estimations on the washing process environmental impact:
in the world there are more than 840.000.000 washing machines, consuming around 20km3 of water and 100TWh of energy, annually.

Ocean Pollution

Washing settings can help reducing the release of microplastics.

An article dated back to june 2020(2) confirms what we previously discussed and adds some tips to reduce the impact of machine-washing on the release of microcfibers.

The water/load ratio is directly connected to the release of microfibers. This ratio represents how much water is used for each kg of garments and thus this ratio increases when the load decreases – for a given amount of water used in the washing cycle. Experiments say that when washing 1.0-3.5kg of garments, 132.4 +- 68.6ppm of microfibers were found in filters while washing 3.5-6.0kg resulted in 66.3±27 ppm.

The experiments showed also that decreasing the washing temperature and the time results in a 30% decrease of microfibers generation and a 40% decrease in whiteness loss. The generation of microfibers stabilizes after 8 washes (28.7 +- 10.9 ppm) so that new garments release way much more microfibers than used ones.

Laundry Machine

We can say that a good approach to washing garments in washing machines is:

  • colder cycles
  • quicker cycles
  • complete (but not overfilled) cycles

 

There is a virtuous circle in all this: setting faster and colder cycles leads to a lower release of microfibers and this extends the life of the garments, reducing the number of new garments purchased and therefore avoiding the conspicuous release of fibers in the first washes.

Laundry Machine

We can say that a good approach to washing garments in washing machines is:

  • colder cycles
  • quicker cycles
  • complete (but not overfilled) cycles

There is a virtuous circle in all this: setting faster and colder cycles leads to a lower release of microfibers and this extends the life of the garments, reducing the number of new garments purchased and therefore avoiding the conspicuous release of fibers in the first washes.

In the end we can say, quite obviously, that if the fabric has 0% synthetic fibers, there are no microplastics released.

(CAMCO fabric has no synthetic fibers)

  1. The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution
    De Falco, F., Di Pace, E., Cocca, M. et al.The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution. Sci Rep 9, 6633 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-43023-x
  2. Microfiber release from real soiled consumer laundry and the impact of fabric care products and washing conditions.
    Neil J. Lant ,Adam S. Hayward,Madusha M. D. Peththawadu,Kelly J. Sheridan,John R. Dean.
    Published: June 5, 2020
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0233332

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