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Microplastics found in 119 detergent brands

Amsterdam, July 3 2019 – In Austria, an environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and a consumer organisation (AK OÖ) together tested 300 detergents for microplastics. In 119 detergents microplastics (> 50 μm) were found. Not just the lists of ingredients were examined, but also 36 samples were tested for microplastic contents in a laboratory.

GLOBAL 2000

The results were compared with the list of 520 polymers published by ECHA early 2019 (Annex XV Restriction Report). It is expected that these polymers will be banned from the European Union next year. Already during the investigation some supermarket chains committed to removing the so-called “microbeads” from their home brands.  The report, Test Plastik in Waschmitteln, welcomes this step, but also calls for a ban of all added microplastics – including the liquids.

Liquid plastic

The European chemicals agency ECHA has proposed to ban from the European Union all purposely added microplastics in detergents in 2020. However, this proposal will probably not include plastics in solved or liquid form. Is it unclear to what extend these liquid polymers are biodegradable. The report therefore calls for inclusion of liquid plastics on the list of ingredients to be banned. The report shows that there are plenty of brands that can do without.

Flawed information

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients on product packaging. European legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. The investigators note that this form of information is both tedious and flawed. They call for legislation that ensures that in all cases all ingredients are listed on packaging, just like with personal care products.


Also read: ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics 

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Microplastic fibers found in amphipods in deepest point of the ocean

Amsterdam, 27 March 2019 – Animals living in the deepest place of the world ingested plastic. The seafloor of the Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines, lies almost eleven kilometres below the surface of the sea. Last year researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. And the concentration of plastic particles was the highest, with 335 particles of mainly single-use plastics per square kilometre, at a depth of six kilometres.

Shocking discovery

And now, there has been another shocking discovery. In the deeps of the Mariana Trench lives a species of amphipods (Lysianassoidea amphipod) and marine biologists of Newcastle University, who study marine life in the trenches of the Pacific Ocean, wondered if plastic would be present in these amphipods. The researchers sampled 90 amphipods from the MarianaTrench and five other oceanic trenches.

Photo: Newcastle University

Mainly synthetic fibers

The result is shocking: 72% of the amphipods contained at least one particle of plastic. In the MarianaTrench all the amphipods contained plastic. And 84% of the microplastic fibers originated from synthetic clothing while 16% originated from other microplastics. In the least contaminated trench, the New Hebrides Trench, still half of the sampled amphipods contained plastic. The largest fiber was a few millimetres long, purple, twisted in the shape of an eight, and found in an amphipod barely a few centimetres tall.

This Newcastle University study is the first time proof that even animals living in the deepest locations on Earth ingest microplastics.


Also read: Plastic found in the deepest part of the ocean

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More recycled PET in clothing: no guarantee for less fiber loss

Amsterdam, 27 February 2019 – Plastic microfibers are found everywhere: in water, on land and in the air. Machine washing of synthetic clothing is the biggest cause. At least hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of tiny fibers are released with every cycle.

In the report Fixing fashion, which was released this week, the British Parliament has determined that the textile and fast fashion industry are the most polluting sectors. The loss of microfibers is only one of many environmental problems the industry causes. It also includes water pollution, high CO2 emission, use of toxic chemicals, as well as numerous social maltreatments. The report, drawn up based on hearings by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, says it like it is and wants the industry to strongly reduce their environmental strain. The commission also wants the British government to take effective measures.

59 Textile companies in the United Kingdom have promised to use at least 25% rPET (recycled PET) in their garments by 2020. This has various (environmental) benefits: less new plastic has to be used, less plastic ends up in landfills, it creates a market for used plastic bottles and, not in the least, saves CO2. Due to these benefits, it’s understandable that even the parliamentary commission follows this course and suggests that much more fashion in the United Kingdom should be made from recycled plastic. This is to be stimulated by levying tax on all synthetic clothing that doesn’t consist of at least 50% recycled PET.

However, clothing made from recycled plastic unfortunately also leads to fiber loss. One environmental problem is therefore maintained in order to solve other (environmental) problems. The commission does add that clothing with recycled PET should be specially designed to minimize shedding, but doesn’t say whether this is technically achievable.  And “garments designed to minimize shedding” is as vague as it can be.

Without a norm for fiber loss there’s even a risk that the propagated way (more recyclables in clothing) will have counterproductive results for the plastic soup, because not less, but more plastic fibers enter the environment on balance.

Also read – Millions of microfibers in wastewater with every wash

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Adidas, Nike, H&M and Zara products tested on microfiber loss during washing

Munich, 4th February 2019 – In the last year, the Institute for Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials of the Italian National Research Council (IPCB-CNR) and the Netherlands-based Plastic Soup Foundation tested synthetic clothes from four global fashion brands. The results will be presented during the trade fair ISPO in Munich on Monday, February 4th from 4pm to 5pm, at the Press Center West.

The findings

This blouse from Zara – made of 100% polyester on the front and a blend of cotton and modal on the back – lost so many fibers per wash that it started “disintegrating” after only few washes. It lost an average of 307,6 mg of fibers per kg of laundry.

Maria Westerbos, director and founder of the Plastic Soup Foundation, states: “This is what you call fast fashion. It disappears in front of your eyes.”

The tested t-shirts from both Adidas and Nike are made of 100% polyester and lost a very similar percentage of mg of fibers per wash: 124,05 mg/kg and 125 mg/kg, respectively.

The H&M blouse that was tested contained 65% of recycled polyester. The loss of fibers from this blouse was still high but, surprisingly, it performed better than the other brands, losing an average of 48,6 mg per kg of wash.

The method used in determining the quantity of lost fibers was similar to the one Plymouth University used on their research in 2016. Both institutes weighed the filters before and after filtration in order to evaluate the number of microfibers released in grams. The main difference between the two is that IPCB-CNR used three filters and washed whole garments, while Plymouth University used one filter and washed small pieces of fabrics. Nonetheless, the outcome of both research projects is comparable.

Further specifics: IPCB-CNR washed the garments two times using the same methodology for all of the tests:

  • a Bosch washing machine
  • washing load of 2-2.5 kg
  • the program for synthetic clothes at 40ºC & 1200 rpm
  • using liquid detergent
  • the wastewater was filtered through three filters with a mesh size of 400, 60 and 20 microns; the latter filter contained openings two times smaller than a human hair.

Maria Westerbos: “IPCB-CNR wrote a scientific paper on the performed tests which is being peer-reviewed and will soon be published. Although the outcome is shocking and three out of the four fashion brands perform ‘badly’, we cannot completely compare them. It all depends on what fabric has been used and how the yarn is made: what (combination) of materials, but also if the fibers are long or short, or if the yarn is woven or knitted. We need a benchmark to be able to compare yarn, but no fashion brand in the world is willing to pay for that. It makes me so sad.”

Solutions along the value chain

Another important issue is that regular washing machines are not capable of filtering out microfibers that are released during the washing process. For that reason, the Plastic Soup Foundation supports an innovative (add-on but also internal) filter created by the Slovenian start-up company Planet Care. Two of the four garments that were tested by IPCB-CNR, used this Planet Care filter as well, and the results were outstanding: up to 80% of the fibers got caught before entering the wastewater. Westerbos: “The t-shirts from Nike and Adidas were washed one more time in order to test the filter, with a successful outcome. Although this solution is end-of-pipe, it is at least a working solution. I advise washing machine manufacturers to implement this a.s.a.p. in their washing machines.”

Besides the filter, there is another – beginning of pipe – solution that seems extremely promising. As part of the Mermaids Life+ research (2014-2018), IPCB-CNR developed a pectin coating that can be added to the yarn and could potentially prevent more than 80% of microfiber release. At the moment, more research is being funded by yarn manufacturer Sympatex Technologies.

Sympatex also asked IPCB-CNR to test the loss of fibers from functional textiles, used in outdoor clothing. The initial results of these tests will also be presented at a press conference during the trade fair ISPO 2019 in Munich on February 4th from 4pm to 5pm, at the Press Center West.

Sympatex, the Plastic Soup Foundation, IPCB-CNR, Plastic Leak Project, Planet Care and Ruby Moon are collaborating to explore and find solutions to microfiber release from synthetic clothing.

Background information

Synthetic clothes are a menace to animals and humans

The Plastic Soup Foundation is very unhappy with the outcome of the washing tests and urges brands to take responsibility and make the materials more sustainable, not only during the production phase but also during wear. Acrylic, polyester, nylon and other man-made materials do not biodegrade in the environment, they fragmentize into ever smaller pieces. The Plastic Soup Foundation holds clothing manufacturers responsible for the whole life-cycle. Last year, these results were shared with the tested brands to give them the opportunity to react and make necessary changes. Until now only Adidas is active in a search for possible solutions. No response has been given and no action has been taken by the other three brands since.

Synthetic clothes are one the biggest environmental threats of our time; they are responsible for more than one-third of all microplastics – plastic particles smaller than 5mm – polluting our oceans. Synthetic materials represent about 60% of the clothing material worldwide, and out of this percentage, the most used one is polyester. The omnipresence of clothing made from synthetic materials is irrefutable, and microplastic pollution from clothes which passes undetected through wastewater treatment plants, are also making their way into humans. Microplastics have been found in fish, plankton, chicken, sea salt, beer, honey and in tap as well as bottled water. We are also breathing in these plastic particles due to fiber loss by our carpets, curtains, and other textiles.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition could implement the loss of fibers in the world wide’s most sustainable tool: The Higg Materials Sustainability Index, but for that it needs a benchmark as a tool to compare test results.

IPCB-CNR and the Plastic Soup Foundation collaborated before in the Mermaids Life+ research, an EU-funded project with the goal of monitoring and mitigating the number of microfibers released during laundry processes.

 

Press enquiries to:

Maria Westerbos, Founder & Director | Plastic Soup Foundation
E-mail: maria@plasticsoupfoundation.org
Phone number: (+31) 06-510 906 91

Jeroen Dagevos, Head to Programs | Plastic Soup Foundation
E-mail: jeroen@plasticsoupfoundation.org
Phone number: (+31) 06-468 378 86

Maurizio Avella, Research Director | IPCB-CNR
E-mail: maurizio.avella@ipcb.cnr.it
Phone number: (+39) 081 8675058

Press kit:

You can download the poster, the pictures of the filters as well as relevant scientific papers here.

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How damaging is breathing in microplastics?

Amsterdam, 23 March 2018 – Around 16% of the plastic produced annually in the world consists of textile fibers. In recent decades, production has grown by 6% every year and is now around 60 million tons per year. Synthetic clothing is responsible for endless amounts of microfibers which can even be found in drinking water. And what’s worse, hardly any research has been carried out into the presence of tiny plastic particles in the air.

An earlier French study showed that plastic microfibers are not just in outdoor air, they are also present inside buildings and in particular in dust on the floor. An analysis of fibers in the air shows that 29% is plastic. Research has already shown that people breathe in microfibers. Indoors it is babies that crawl on the floor, who breathe in the most fibers.

Does breathing these fibers in damage health? In a recently published article in ScienceDirect, the French researchers, this time together with their British counterparts, expressed their extreme concern and called for urgent more in-depth interdisciplinary research. In their article entitled “Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in?” they discuss where particles are coming from and what the health risks are. Most of the particles people breathe in find their way out again.

However there are fears that some of the particles penetrate deep into the lungs and remain there permanently, simply because plastic does not break down. It is possible that the body reacts to these particles, for example through infections, especially in people who are less fit.

The findings in the article conclude:

  • the concentration of plastic fibers in the air indoors is substantially higher than in the air outdoors, indoor fibers are also longer;
  • plastic particles are found in lung tissue. This indicates that the body is not able to rid itself of all particles;
  • when particles remain in the lungs, they remain there for a long time because they are bio-persistent;
  • all kinds of fibers appear to cause infections when the concentration reaches a certain level or after prolonged inhalation. It also matters how long the fibers are because longer fibers appear to be more damaging;
  • workers who handle plastic textile fibers are known to suffer from many types of lung disease, from coughing to limited lung capacity;
  • a significant shortcoming in the research is the measurement method. The researchers were only able to study fibers of 50 μm, but it is vital that particles under 10 μm in size are studied.

Also read: California legislation will require polyester clothing to have a microfiber pollution label

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Warning label plastic clothing desperately needed

Amsterdam, March 19, 2018 – Microfibers that are released during the machine-washing of synthetic clothing are one of the most important and difficult-to-combat sources of the plastic soup. Millions of fibers are released per wash, fibers so small they are impossible to remove from wastewater. A bill has recently been submitted in California which proposes to provide all synthetic clothing with a warning label. Clothing that is at least 50% synthetic must be labeled with the text “This garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed”. If the bill is passed, it will take effect on January 1st, 2020.

In Europe, an industrial consortium of textile companies is considering how to prevent the spread of microfibers derived from synthetic clothing. Before the end of 2018, the partnership, according to a statement issued in January, will present possible solutions to the European Commission. This plan, however, is so vague that it raises the question whether the consortium is, in fact, strategically delaying measures for as long as possible.

The bill in California can be understood as a litmus test. If the European partnership has been created to work seriously, then there should be nothing in the way of publicly declaring that such a label should also be obligatory in Europe. If, on the other hand, the consortium has been set up to postpone all effective measures for as long as possible (under the guise that excessive research must be conducted first, for example), the industry will not commit to such a label. 

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The European Commission should not wait for the proposals that the European textile Industry will present at the end of 2018. Instead, it should make a warning label obligatory, just like in California. In this way, consumers are at least informed — that is an important first step in the fight against this environmental disaster.”

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California legislation will require polyester clothing to have a microfiber pollution label

Amsterdam, March 9th – New legislation in California would require clothing items containing more than 50% of polyester to carry a label warning that the garment releases plastic microfibers when machine washed. The label would, in that case, recommend consumers to hand wash the clothing item.  

The bill was introduced in February 2018 and, if it passes, it would be prohibited to sell clothing without this label as of January 1, 2020. Hats and shoes would be exempt of this requirement.  

The goal of this new law is to recognize the threat that microfibers pose in the environment, provide with accurate information to the public and, ultimately, reduce the amount of microfibers that enter the environment.  

Microfiber pollution: an omnipresent peril 

This proposal arises as a reaction to the ever-increasing microfiber pollution of the oceans. According to the bill, synthetic clothes can shed up to 1,900 microfibers per wash and warns about the dangers of these tiny fibers when entering the ocean and eaten by sea life, as they would eventually go up the food chain. However, research from Mermaids Life+ shows that previous studies have greatly underestimated that number: an average of 9,000,000 fibers are released in every 5-kilo wash. The three-year research funded by the EU published its results in the magazine Environmental Pollution. 

A recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all primary microplastics in the oceans originate from machine-washed synthetic textiles, making this the largest source of microplastics, with car tire wear in second place at 28%. 

The ubiquity of microfibers in the environment pose a serious threat to wildlife as well as humans. Microfibers are so pervasive that they have been found in the most remote places in the world. A blue microfiber was found in the heart of the Himalayas, where no human had ever been before, and an amount of 25.5 billion synthetic fibers enter the water per decade in the area of the Antarctic Sea.  

A research in 2016 showed that a quarter of the fish bought at local fish markets had plastic in their digestive tracts, 80% of it being microfibers. Fibers are also contaminating the water we drink and the air we breathe.

Realistic and drastic measures need to be taken to stop this dramatic situation. California’s legislation sets a good example on the role that the governments can play to solve it.  

California: environmental pioneer 

California has traditionally been a worldwide frontrunner in taking environmental measures. They were the first state in the US to ban plastic microbeads before President Obama signed the Microbeads-Free Waters Act in 2015 and single-use plastic bags were banned in 2016. A bill proposed earlier this year, would make it illegal for restaurants to offer plastic straws to customers unless requested.  

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European textile industry’s microfiber initiative puts off taking action

Amsterdam, 2 February 2018 – Plastic microfibers are released during the machine washing of synthetic clothing. Microfibers in the environment are difficult to tackle and form a huge problem. In its Plastic Strategy the European Commission expresses its support for a new initiative by a European industrial consortium, which aims to prevent plastic microfibers entering water. On 16 January, the very day that the EC presented its Plastic Strategy, the consortium released this declaration.

The aim of the industry’s initiative is to find feasible solutions and develop test methods. To achieve this, the consortium intends to spend the first half of 2018 analyzing the problem. In addition to this it wants to put a draft proposal to the European Commission by the end of 2018 stating which knowledge needs to be developed in order to work on possible solutions. The declaration is incredibly vague.

The five companies (AISE, CIRFS, European Outdoor Group, Euratex, Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry) could, however, save themselves months of effort, since the European Commission already had research carried out into synthetic microfibers long ago. The main conclusion of the Mermaids Life+ project is that 600,000 and 17,700,000 microfibers are released during every five-kilo wash (an average of six million per wash). This and other results were published at the end of 2017 in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution. The Mermaids project also developed an analysis method based on scanning a filter (with a mesh size of 5 µm) using an electron microscope. This makes it possible to count the number of fibers released per wash relatively accurately.

So why has the consortium failed to even mention research carried out by the European Mermaids project, while at the same time saying it wants to analyze the problem and focus on developing harmonized test methods? After all the problem has long been analyzed, not just by Mermaids, but also by other research groups, such as the one led by professor Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth. The results of which are largely consistent. There is currently enough known on which synthetic materials release more or fewer fibers, which temperatures reduce fiber release and whether, for example, it matters which detergent is used.

So what is actually going on? Measures to prevent fiber loss will be radical and that is a huge threat to the whole textile chain. The joint action taken by the five industrial organizations is a tried and tested strategy, which could be described as ‘obstructive cooperation’. It entails recognizing that there is a problem and then taking as much time as possible to analyze and research it. The essential thing is to avoid or influence government regulation by being the first to announce action.

The European Commission should have set conditions for measures aimed at reducing the loss of fibers and it should have done so on the basis of the European Mermaids life+ project.

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Millions of microfibers in wastewater from every wash

Amsterdam, 24 November 2017 – Between 600,000 and 17,700,000 microfibers are released in every 5-kilo wash; that is the equivalent of 0.43 to 1.27 grams in weight. Wastewater rinses these fibers during washing and most end up in the surface water, because water purification installations are not equipped to stop them. The fibers are extremely small and their numbers are endless. As a result, they enter the food chain relatively easily. This is one of the main conclusions of the European Mermaids Life+ project, whose results have now been published in the magazine Environmental Pollution.

In a recent report, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all primary microplastics in the oceans originate from machine-washed synthetic textiles, making this the largest source of microplastics, with car tire wear in second place at 28%.

So how many plastic microfibers are released during a single wash and does the way in which you wash make a difference? The Italian and Spanish researchers developed an analysis method based on scanning a filter (mesh size 5 µm) using an electron microscope, which can fairly accurately count how many fibers have been released after a wash. This method made it possible to calculate whether the temperature at which you wash or the type of synthetic material (woven or knitted) matters.

The Mermaids research shows that woven polyester textiles release the most microfibers compared to knitted polyester and woven polypropylene. Both washing powder and liquid washing detergents increases the number of fibers released compared to just using water. Use of liquid detergent is better than washing powder. It apparently makes a big difference whether or not you use fabric softener, since it reduces the number of fibers by more than 35%. Higher temperatures, longer wash durations and water hardness also have a negative impact, depending on the type of synthetic material. Fewer fibers are released when liquid detergents are used rather than washing powder and domestic washing generates fewer fibers than industrial washing.

The Dutch government is looking into which policy measures can be taken to combat three sources of microplastics; tires, paint and cleaning products. Textiles were not taken into consideration because they are already being researched through the Mermaids project. Some policy measures to drastically reduce the quantity of microfibers can be deduced from the recently published article. These are the most obvious ones:

  • Promoting liquid detergents rather than washing powders
  • Using fabric softener
  • Setting standards for the production of synthetic textiles.

However, even if all these measures were to be taken, it would not solve the problem by a long way.

Photo: Mermaids research.

livers levers fish
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Fish ingest less microplastics than assumed

Recently, an Argentinian study was published into microplastics in coastal freshwater fish captured at the Rio de la Plata. Eighty-seven fish belonging to eleven different species were studied. Microplastics were found in all fish. Plastic microfibers represented 96% of the microplastics.

However, a other research from Wageningen shows an entirely different result. Four hundred North Sea fish belonging to four different species were studied on the presence of microplastics (bigger than 20 μm). Just two microplastics were found in one fish, a sprat. How can we explain the vast difference between these two studies?

The researchers from Wageningen found it suspicious that earlier researches had reported relatively large amounts of microplastics in fish. They suspected contamination; pollution of the fish by the researchers of the earlier studies, such as fibres from clothing worn during the investigation or the presence of plastic particles in the air. That is why this time the research was designed in such a way that contamination could be eliminated.

Their conclusion: fish possibly ingest less microplastics than is generally thought.