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Report pressconference Mermaids

15 May 2017 – The Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) looks back at a very successful press conference where the Mermaids Life+ project’s worrying research findings as well as potential solutions to the problems they raise were presented. The event attracted much national attention in the media, both on TV and radio as well as online. EenVandaag opened its programme on 9 May with microfibers from synthetic clothing, and RTL Nieuws featured the subject in its evening broadcast. BNR Nieuwsradio and NPO Radio 1 attended and interviewed PSF staff, the scientists and the inventors of potential solutions for the problem. The subject was also picked up by many online media outlets. Articles appeared on several websites including Nu, AD, Radar, Vroege Vogels and Kunststof en Rubber. See the full list of media reports here.

During the three-year Mermaids Life+ project, intensive research was done by the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and the Leitat Technological Center into the loss of fibers during machine washing. Dick Vethaak, Professor of Toxicology at the Free University of Amsterdam and attached to the Deltares research institute, opened the conference with an introduction to the sources of microfibers in the environment and their threat to humans and animals. After introducing this worldwide problem to the audience, he handed the floor to Maurizio Avella of IPCB-CNR[1] to present the findings.

What emerged from the findings was that a machine-washed polyester T-shirt releases up to 700,000 microfibers. When the same T-shirt is washed with a softener, it releases 250,000 fibers. This means that softener helps prevent the loss of microfibers. However, high temperatures, hard water, detergents and the fast rotation during the spin cycle damage clothing and produce even more microfibers. Every average full machine wash releases about 20 million fibers that enter our seas and oceans through the drains and sewage system.

Research has also been done into whether microfiber loss can be reduced by coating the plastics. Raffaella Mossotti, CNR-ISMAC[2] researcher in Biella, presented the first successful experiments with bio-based coatings using prawn shells (chitin) and plant-based sugars (pectin). The results showed a reduction of up to 50% microfibers during every wash.

There are several innovations underway worldwide to find ways of preventing microfibers from entering the water. Rachael Miller of The Rozalia Project, who developed the Cora Ball, and Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies of the Guppy Friend washing bag were also present. Rachael Miller drew her inspiration for her Cora Ball, which filters the miniscule microfibers out of the water, from the natural processes of coral. The Guppy Friend is a washing machine bag that collects microfibers during washing. According to tests, the bag is able to retain up to 99% of the fibers.

cora ball

Cora Ball

Guppy Friend

Apart from these types of grassroots solutions, the clothing industry’s processes should also be examined. G-Star and Patagonia are the first major brands to take the issue of microfibers seriously. They understand that as producers of synthetic clothing, they need to take responsibility.

For those interested in the Cora Ball and Guppy Friend, the products are currently not available for purchase. The Cora Ball team is still working on the development of the ball and expects to launch the product on the market in summer. However, it can already be pre-ordered through this link. The Guppy Friend will initially be sold through Patagonia’s shops and online stores and will be retailed more widely at a future date. As soon as the Cora Ball and the Guppy Friend are available on the market, the Plastic Soup Foundation will announce this on its website and social media channels.

[1] The department of the CNR that works with polymers, composites and biomaterials.

[2] The department of the CNR that works on macromolecular studies.