Microplastics: The Risks and How to Prevent
The unusually warm weather experienced in Philly recently has brought out a mix of emotions. Some are ecstatic to ditch the heavy winter coats, while others are sad to see a winter without snow. For me, my feelings lay somewhere in the middle. The sun on my face has been greatly enjoyed, but I have also experienced some mild panic related to global warming and the potential loss of a bitter winter in Philadelphia. While I have always tried to be as environmentally conscious as possible, I tend to fall short when it comes to my consumption of clothing. What can I say? I love to go shopping. Ignoring the clear option of just buying less, I searched for ways to make my closet more sustainable. This is when I stumbled upon the threat of microplastics and how it manifests in clothing.
What are Microplastics?
According to National Geographic, microplastics are “tiny plastic particles that result from both commercial product development and the breakdown of larger plastics.” The presence of microplastics has been overwhelmingly seen in large sources of water, such as oceans, lakes, and freshwater reservoirs. Runoff often carries single-use plastics, cosmetics, textiles, and so much more litter into these water sources. The larger pieces of trash are converted into microplastics through radiation from the sun and physical breakdown from the waves. Microplastics have been found in marine organisms, commercial seafood, and even drinking water. This has only recently become a topic of discussion in the scientific community and, as a result, there is not much known about the long-lasting effects. However, there is general consensus that the ingestion of microplastics would most likely be harmful to humans and animals.
How to Reduce Your Impact
The seemingly obvious answer to reducing your contribution of microplastics is to stop buying clothes made with synthetic fabrics and switch to fully natural fabrics. However, a rapid switch would result in greater pressures on land and water use – given current consumption rates. My recommendation in relation to textiles is to simply be more mindful when shopping; if shopping secondhand, definitely look for natural fabrics. A big way to reduce your impact is to change the ways you wash your clothes. Every time you run a load of laundry, microplastics flow into the environment as your washing machine drains; up to 700,000 microfibres can detach in a single wash. There are products you can add to your wash to catch microplastics; these include the Cora Ball (pictured above), a guppy bag, or a self-installed washing machine filter. However helpful these actions may be, they still will not fix the root cause of the issue of microplastics.
The Larger Solution
There are two main sectors that can make a substantial difference: the fashion industry and national governments. The fashion industry can do three main things:
- Use textiles that have been tested to ensure the minimal release of synthetic microfibers into the environment.
- Ensure the product is durable so it remains out of landfills as long as possible.
- Consider how the garment and textile waste could be recycled to achieve a circular system.
Additionally, the passing of comprehensive and cohesive legislation across multiple governments would make a profound impact. There have been laws proposed, such as mandating a label explaining the possibility of microfiber shedding or requiring all washing machines to contain a filter. However, many have not come to pass. It becomes the responsibility of us all to write to our representatives and stress the hazards microplastics impose.
While discussions around climate change can often seem like there is no way out and the apocalypse is near, there are feasible ways to make a positive change and reduce your personal impact on the environment.
Featured image courtesy of JBT.