Waiter, there's plastic in my soup!
Plastic pollution comes from many sources, some are almost invisible. Take microfibres from washing synthetic clothes, for instance. Each time you wash synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, tiny microfibres break away from the clothes and are washed into the oceans, creating a plastic soup. The situation gets worse as the clothes get older as more fibres come away when washed. It is estimated that 1,900 fibres are washed off a single synthetic garment. Plymouth University studies found 140,000 fibres washed off of a machine load of polyester-cotton blend and 730,000 per acrylic load.
A quick, humorous summary of the issue can be seen in this video by the plasticsoupfoundation.org.
Between 2009 and 2013 global consumption of synthetic clothing and textiles increased from 35.8 million tonnes to 55 million tonnes.
Why Are Microplastic Fibres Harmful?
In a nutshell, microplastics find their way into our food chain, and are harmful to wildlife. Due to their small size, microplastic fibres are readily ingested by aquatic life and bioaccumulate through the food chain, to concentrated toxins in larger animals. Studies have found plastic microfibres in drinking water, beer, honey and table salt.
The Open Your Eyes To The Dangers Of Plastic blog summarises the effects of plastic on human health and the environment.
What Can we Do?
The Women's Institute (WI) feel passionately about the Plastic Soup issue and have passed a resolution with 98.9% of the vote which "calls on Government and industry to research and develop innovative solutions to this problem in order to stop the accumulation of microplastic fibres in our oceans." Go WI! Together we can make a change.
Once in the marine environment, attempts to remove microplastics are labour intensive and extremely costly, therefore prevention is key. Solutions to investigate include water treatment, changes in textile production, recycling processes and persuading washing machine manufacturers to introduce filters to catch microfibres before they enter the ocean.
There is some debate about making garments from recycled clothing and even plastic, as the microplastic fibres will also come away and re-enter the environment. I will leave you to ponder if recycling plastic into clothes (which will ultimately end up in the sea), or leaving the plastic floating in the ocean for hundreds of years, is the better option...
Reducing your plastic footprint so there is none to discard, is the right answer. Our Be The Change blog offers some easy plastic swaps so you can get started right away. A future blog will offer more simple steps to start living plastic-free. There are also many plastic-free and zero-waste websites offering tips such as http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/living-plastic-free.html.
Another solution is to stop buying synthetic-fibre goods. Choose blankets and rugs from natural wools; and cushions, towels, kitchen linens, wash cloths and bags made from cotton or linen. We have a fabulous selection for you to browse 😀
It is easy to get overwhelmed by facts and figures so here is some simple advice - each time you are about to purchase something, ask yourself: is it made from plastic and is there a plastic-free alternative?
"If you don't like something, change it.” Maya Angelou