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More than 700,000 plastic fibers for every 6 kilos of laundry

Clothing has been made from synthetic fabrics for more than 50 years. These items of clothing shed fibers during machine washing. It is becoming more and more evident that this involves huge quantities and that synthetic clothing is a large source of the microplastics which are polluting the oceans. Up to now there have been few studies on how great the loss of fibers is and under which circumstances the loss of fibers can be reduced. This involves washing at different temperatures, the use of different detergents and washing different sorts of synthetic fabrics, including synthetics combined with cotton.

British researchers from the University of Plymouth have now answered these questions. They tested the loss of fibers when washing clothing made from polyester, acryl and a mixture of polyester and cotton at different temperatures (30 and 40 degrees) and using different detergents. Clothing made from acryl produced the most fibers (728,789 fibers) per wash and these are fibers with an average diameter of 14.05 μm and length of 5.44 mm. That is five times more than the mixed polyester and cotton fabric and 1.5 times more than polyester on its own.

The article refers to the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) and Mermaids Life+ project which is striving to develop innovative solutions.  Earlier this year, the PSF launched the Ocean Clean Wash campaign to mitigate this source of plastic pollution.

The English study was published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin in September 2016 and confirms earlier findings by Mermaids that hundreds of thousands of fibers may be lost with every wash. The Guardian quotes head researcher Richard Thompson: “industry needs to think about the design of fabrics to ensure their environmental emissions are minimised”. Now Ocean Clean Wash provides the industry with a platform to realize innovations which make a difference.

Photo: Prof. Richard Thompson, Plymouth