Tiny to the human eye, but causing one big problem – the truth about microfibres

Tiny to the human eye, but causing one big problem – the truth about microfibres

What are microfibres?

The words “plastic pollution” evoke images of discarded plastic bottles and bags, derelict fishing gear and crushed cigarette butts on a beautiful beach or floating underwater. In all the news articles and television segments we see, the flow of plastic pollution is visible to the naked eye. However, the plastic we can see is only part of the problem. What we don’t see so easily are the microscopic, hair-like plastic fibres that are coursing through the water and air, accumulating on beaches, in intertidal zones and even in Arctic sea ice. These are synthetic microfibres - thin pieces of plastic, a sub-category of microplastics, that resemble a strand of hair.

Polyester, nylon and acrylic fabrics are all made using plastic microfibres. Every time these materials are washed, worn and used, fibres shed into the environment and often the water system.

How do microfibres make their way to the sea?

Microfibres shed from fabric through the production and washing of clothes and through normal wear-and-tear. Across the U.K., at least 9.4 trillion microfibres could be released into the environment in just one week, with many of them ending up in the ocean and on beaches. For every load of laundry washed, as many as 700,000 microfibres can flow into the U.K.’s water systems

Both their prevalence and our inability to capture them mean synthetic microfibres are a real problem. They travel through soil, water and even air to all regions of the globe and are thought to comprise up to 35% of primary microplastics in the marine environment. Once in the environment, they can be consumed by fish and other wildlife, potentially injuring the health of animals and those that eat them, including humans.

How is the U.K addressing this problem?

A leading U.K. marine charity, Marine Conservation Society (MCS), is calling on the Government to help stem the flow of plastic microfibres entering the ocean from our laundry with a new campaign and petition called Stop Ocean Threads. The goal is to secure legislation requiring all washing machines to have microfibre filters.

Despite just 40% of the U.K. public having heard of ‘microfibre pollution’ before taking a recent survey from YouGov, once made aware of how prolific the pollution is, most (81%) supported legislation to get microfibre filters fitted into all new domestic washing machines.

We’ll soon be sharing our own tips on how you can help tackle the problem of microfibres in fast fashion – keep an eye out!

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