WHO calls for more research into the health effects of microplastics: The first conference on this in the world will be held on 3 October

Amsterdam 20 August 2019 – The World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first report into the effects of microplastics on human health. The report cautiously concludes that the concentration of microplastics in our drinking water is low and up to now does not seem to pose risks to human health. But on its own website, the WHO emphasises that what is needed is more research: ‘WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution.’

And this is exactly what is being done in the Netherlands! EUR 1.6 million has been made available to ZonMw that supports health research and innovation in health care. There are currently 15 research projects being carried out in the Netherlands into the effects of microplastics and nanoplastics on our bodies.

On 3 October, the Plastic Soup Foundation, ZonMw and the international Plastic Health Coalition in Amsterdam will hold the very first conference in the world on the findings of these research projects on the relationship between plastic and health. It has been proven that there are plastic particles in our excrement and that plastic particles in zebrafish have broken through the fish’s protective barrier to reach the brain.

The conference will be attended by scientists such as Pete Meyers (renowned scientist and founder of Environmental Health Services); the media such as Sharon Lerner (journalist at The Intercept); and large international companies from all over the world such as Inditex.

Visit the conference website for information and to register: Plastic Health Summit.






For Immediate Release

11 March 2019

A group of Dutch divers, diving companies and the Plastic Soup Foundation are introducing a new hand signal for divers: the P for Plastic.

Every year, thousands of marine animals get caught in plastic or mistake plastic for food and die out of starvation. The plastic soup is also causing coral reefs to get sick because plastic works as a magnet attracting toxins. It’s a disaster for underwater life and a threat to what we love doing – diving!

The Plastic Hand Signal

Divers use underwater hand signals for squid, turtles and sharks, but not yet for the largest polluter in our ocean – plastic. If nothing changes, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. As a diver, you are constantly confronted with the ongoing decay and damaged state of the sea and the coral reefs. This is why a group of diving companies and divers, together with the Plastic Soup Foundation, are introducing a new hand signal: The P for Plastic. This signal can be used by divers under water to let their buddies know that they see plastic and they want to pick it up. The goal of this hand signal is to encourage as many divers around the world to spread awareness and take action against the plastic plague that our ocean is facing right now.

Help us spread the word!

  • Download the image with the hand signal & share it with your diving buddies on social media. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #PforPlastic.
  • Print the poster & hang it at your dive school. The more people see it the bigger the impact!
  • Start using the hand signal, teach it and show that you care about the oceans.

Find more information about what you as a diver, dive school or diving company can do to stop plastic pollution here: www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/divers.

The initiators

This hand signal is an initiative of a wide group of Dutch diving companies (including a dive travel agent, dive school, gear supplier and a media platform), amateur divers and the Plastic Soup Foundation. The Plastic Soup Foundation’s mission is to have ‘No plastic waste in our water!’.

, , , ,

ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Amsterdam, 7 March 2019– Every day we inhale and ingest microplastics through the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Do these microplastics then find their way to our brains or into the amniotic fluid of our unborn children? Do the particles affect our intestinal bacteria and lung cells? Or affect our immunity system? Countless questions about the possible health risks of plastic have not yet been answered. But this may change this year.

ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research, made known today that it is subsidising fifteen short research projects into the most burning questions. In total, with additional contributions by the NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it will make an amount of 1.6 million euros available for this purpose.

As the communications partner, the Plastic Soup Foundation will publish the results on its new Plastic Health Platform.

Maria signs collaboration agreementmst met ZonMW

Scientific research into potentially dangerous consequences of microplastics and nanoplastics on the level of the cells in organs is still in the starting blocks. Because ever more alarm bells are ringing about the health risks of plastic, this new scientific research is more urgent than ever. With the ZonMw research, the Netherlands is positioning itself as one of the worldwide leaders.

Frank Pierik, Programme Manager ZonMw says “We are happy that the first projects in the Microplastics & Health programme can start. There is still very little known. This series of short projects will shed light and pave the way for more structured research into the health effects of microplastics.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, adds to this. “We are proud that we have reached this stage. While we do not know for certain, plastic, and in particular microplastics and nanoplastics, are very likely to pose a health risk. Over the last few years we have worked behind the scenes to create The Plastic Health Coalition to continually communicate and share the results of new research. We will make the findings of the ZonMw research known to the world and produce mini documentaries about them. These videos can eventually be viewed on our website and on the ZonMw’s website. Another part of The Plastic Health Coalition is the Plastic Test Lab. In addition to the ZonMw research, we will work with the Free University of Amsterdam to test if various products release microplastics and nanoplastics – just think about plastic teabags in hot water – and hormone disrupting additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants.”

Photo: Karl Taylor Photography

Also read: Important new report plastic health

, , , ,

Scientific research into health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?



Start of scientific research into the health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

Nieuwspoort, 22 March 2019 – Today, ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research and healthcare innovation, will launch fifteen unique research projects into the effects of micro- and nanoplastics on our health. This is the first scientific program in the world on this subject. A total of 1.6 million euros is being invested in the research projects.

Professor Dick Vethaak of Deltares, involved in four of the fifteen research projects, explains: “Microplastics spread easily via water and wind, resulting in a worldwide problem; they are present everywhere in our environment like a kind of grey mist.
We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles via our food, drink or through breathing. What this means for our health, however, cannot yet be properly estimated. There are strong indications of possible health risks, but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.”

Vethaak continues: “I am therefore delighted with this initiative from ZonMw and the involvement of the Plastic Soup Foundation. This is an initial exploratory study in which experts from various disciplines and sectors will work together. In particular, the collaboration between environmental scientists and medical specialists will be strong and unique. The Netherlands is taking the lead worldwide. I therefore have high expectations!”

The projects, which run for one year, address important questions such as:

  • How can microplastics enter our bodies?
  • What role does size, shape and composition play in this?
  • Could plastic in the environment be a source of diseases and infections since certain bacteria seem to thrive on plastic?
  • Can our immune system cope with plastic, or are we more likely to suffer inflammation and infections because of it?
  • How deep does microplastic penetrate into our bodies? Does it affect our brains? Is it harmful to unborn children?

Dr. Heather Leslie of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and involved in three of the projects, says: “If plastic particles can lead to chronic inflammation, that could mean the first step towards a whole series of chronic diseases. That is why we urgently need to investigate how many plastic particles from our consumer society penetrate the human body.”

The first interim results will be presented on 3 October, during a Plastic & Health conference in Amsterdam.

Just the beginning

ZonMw emphasises that the funding of these fifteen projects is only the beginning. One year is not long enough to obtain all the answers. Henk Smid, director of ZonMw, sees great potential in these studies and so also hopes that further long-term investigations will be possible. “The Netherlands has a leading position worldwide in scientific research into microplastics and this should be further expanded as quickly as possible.”

Plastic Health Coalition

Communication on the various pilot projects and possible (interim) results will be done by The Plastic Health Coalition – an initiative of the Plastic Soup Foundation. Working together in this coalition are various national and international environmental and research organisations which are concerned about or concerned with the effects of (micro) plastic on our health.

Plastic Test Lab

In addition to the 15 research projects, the first results of the Plastic Test Lab are also being presented today, a collaboration between the Plastic Soup Foundation and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We have had three cosmetics products tested for the presence of plastic particles and the results are alarming. The absolute disillusion is the anti-wrinkle day cream from Olaz. In one 50 ml jar the VU found no less than 1.5 million plastic particles. Every time I use this product, I therefore close the wrinkles on my face with 90,000 particles. In addition, HEMA lipstick No.06 is made of plastic, and so is the Essie glitter nail polish from L’Oréal.”

Westerbos continues: “Tests such as these fit seamlessly with the fifteen research projects of ZonMw. This gives us more insight into how microplastics can enter our body unimpeded and unintentionally.”

More information

, , ,

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.


ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics


Amsterdam, 30 January 2019 – The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) proposed today, on request of the European Commission, to ban intentionally added microplastics in cosmetics, detergents, paints, agricultural and industrial products. These microplastics are released into the environment and pose a risk to the environment and human health. According to ECHA, an EU-wide ban is justified.  

The Beat the Microbead coalition, running since 2012 and supported by 98 NGOs from 41 countries, is delighted with ECHA’s proposal. Jeroen Dagevos, Head of Programs at the Plastic Soup Foundation and leader of the Beat the Microbead campaign: “We consider the proposal by ECHA to restrict intentionally added microplastics as a big step forward in controlling the microplastic menace.” 

The Beat the Microbead coalition also welcomes the obligation for industry to be transparent about potential risks and to introduce new labelling requirements. Industry’s argument that a ban should be restricted to scrubs and cleansing products only is rightfully rejected by ECHA.

If adopted, the proposed restriction could result in a microplastics emissions reduction of about 400 thousand tonnes over 20 years.

Dagevos: “We are especially happy with the fact that ECHA recommends microplastics to be treated in the same way as persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic substances are treated within REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of Chemicals).”

REACH is currently the strictest chemical regulation in the world.

Intentionally added microplastics are likely to accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic environments. They can be extremely persistent, last for thousands of years and are practically impossible to remove. Concentrations in hotspots like some coastal areas already exceed tentative effect thresholds. Microplastics should therefore be restricted to minimize release as the current situation is not adequately controlled

“Of course,” says Dagevos, “there are also a few points of criticism:

  • The transition period of 4-years and 6-years for rinse-off and leave-on cosmetics respectively, is much too long. Alternatives to microplastic ingredients are widely available on the market. More than 60 brands under our ‘Zero Plastic Inside’ certification prove that it is possible to make quality products without adding microplastic ingredients.  
  • We would not prefer a lower size limit in the definition of microplastics of 1 nanometer. Especially, because nano-plastics are increasingly considered as a risk to marine and terrestrial life, including humans.
  • We regret the exclusion of semi-solid and liquid polymers, which we consider as a possible threat for human health.”

Dagevos: “But above all, we call upon the European Commission to fully adopt the ECHA proposal and also hope it will inspire other countries around the world to follow”.  


See: ECHA proposes to restrict intentionally added microplastics

See also: the video released by ECHA at the end of 2018

See also: our previous position paper concerning regulation microplastics: The BTMB campaign demands restriction of all intentionally added microplastics under REACH  

See also:  our test on microplastics in so called ‘stay on’ products like lipstick, nail polish here!

, , , ,

Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

Plastic Soup Foundation organizes a pellet count in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, 28 January 2019 – At the start of this month freighter MSC Zoe lost at least 292 containers, some of which were filled with pellets. Pellets, also called nurdles and no more than 5 millimeters big, are used to make plastic products. The beach of Schiermonnikoog was covered with millions of these plastic granules. Because they can have a huge ecological impact on the fragile nature of the mudflats, the University of Groningen is investigating where they ended up. Contrary to larger pieces of plastic, these pellets can barely be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the loss of the millions of pellets on the Wadden Sea wasn’t an exception. In October 2017 nurdles from two cargo ships entered the ocean near the South African harbor town of Durban, after which a massive amount washed ashore. Furthermore, a recent Danish report shows that an extraordinary number of pellets were found in the environment around Danish plastic factories – the royal warrant holders of Lego. In May 2018 around 450.000 pellets were found on just one beach in Scotland; twelve miles from the Ineos Polymers factory where they are produced. And in 2016 English consultant Eunomia calculated that up to 53 billion plastic pellets are lost and end up in the environment in the United Kingdom alone.

It is not surprising that pellet loss is considered to be one of the major causes of the plastic soup. Yet there is no national or international organization monitoring it. Because this has actually been a known problem for a long time, plastic manufacturers have voluntarily united in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). By its own account, this industrial initiative applies the best possible practices to prevent pellets from ending up in the ocean. But basically, the industry has free rein and is never fined or confronted. The past 25 years the OCS has also never had to publicly show their accountability. MacKerron, vice president of the American NGO As You Sow: “Operation Clean Sweep provides no transparency on the scope and nature of spills or efforts made to clean up. Given what we know about the alarming rates of plastic leakage into oceans, companies can no longer hide behind vague pledges of best practices. They need to provide prompt and detailed disclosure about specific actions taken to prevent spills, and when spills occur, information on spill size, and actions taken to clean up.”

As You Sow has called to account the American pellet manufacturers Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil and Philips 66 during shareholders’ meetings, and have demanded the creation of at least yearly reports that map the spills, describe which measures have been taken and how the spills were cleaned up.

It is extremely important to gather evidence, so we can enforce measures that lead to the industry taking care of transport without pellet loss. Where and in what concentrations are the pellets found on coastlines and shores? Everyone can simply help build this data with a smartphone, whether alone or in a group. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place between Friday 8 and Sunday 17 February.

With that in mind The Plastic Soup Foundation will organize various pellet counts in the Netherlands that week, at new and still secret hot spot locations in places such as Zeeland and Limburg. Join us and sign up by e-mailing michielp@plasticsoupfoundation.org. You will then receive more information on dates, times and locations.

, , ,

Launch Health Campaign: Start Plastic Diet


Amsterdam, 8 June 2018 – Plastic can cause cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s 

Chemicals in plastic can cause cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, arthritis, impotency and even harm babies in the womb.  

Scientific evidence is piling up. It’s becoming impossible to ignore, inevitably pointing in the same direction. Plastic is everywhere: plastic particles, nanoplastics, microplastics are in food, drinks (tap water and bottled water) and in the air we breathe. For example, from the wear from car tyres in the air and microfibres from synthetic clothes. Cosmetics also contain plastic: lipstick, mascara, nail polish, anti-aging cream… The list goes on and on and on.

 Enough is enough 

 Today on World Oceans Day, the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) is launching a new highly visual campaign. Emotive and hard-hitting. The main visual of the campaign is a human baby, except it’s a human baby made from plastic waste dumped in the oceans. The plastic human baby is a symbol. If we don’t act now, we are passing on our plastic waste problems. Literally poisoning future generations.  

Not enough is known about the adverse health effects of plastic on the human body. That is why the Plastic Soup Foundation calls on companies and governments to initiate and fund more scientific research. To provide answers and protect people from the harmful effects of plastic. 

What the scientists say 

One of the leading environmental researchers over the last three decades is Dr Susan Shaw, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the State University of New York.  

“There is an urgent need to understand how toxic chemicals, plastics, global warming are affecting the environment and human health. This is the frontier, the moral imperative of science today that can sustain life in the future.”  

Dr Shaw has pioneered research into ocean pollution, oil spills, plastics, and climate change. This research is recognized by the global scientific community and has influenced public policy. She is renowned as a researcher for diving into the Gulf of Mexico oil slick following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. She considers plastic pollution as the biggest oil slick of all time, because oil is the main source of plastic. 

Dr Heather Leslie, Senior Researcher at the Department of Environment and Health at VU University, Amsterdam agrees. 

“The hazards of plastic particles for humans are slowly emerging from a number of studies. Plastic debris is a notorious marine issue, but it should now be recognized as a human health issue as well.”

Not just a problem, also a solution 

The Plastic Soup Foundation isn’t just raising awareness of the global health problems caused by plastic. PSF offers solutions. PSF wants to change the way people use plastic. Not by stopping plastic use, but by starting a plastic diet.

What is a plastic diet? 

Maria Westerbos, Director and Founder of the PSF, is currently in New York for World Oceans Day, initiated by the United Nations. 

We can all consume less plastic. As individuals. As a family. In business. On a national and international level. At startplasticdiet.org we offer advice and tips so that everyone and every company can cut down on plastic use. By using less plastic bags (obviously)By bringing your own coffee cup to the local takeaway coffee shop. By not chewing gum (it’s full of plastic). Every little bit less plastic helps. Just by thinking about using less plastic will make already a real difference. The plastic diet is a movement. A revolution. The whole world must go on a plastic diet. 

Plastic Diet Ambassadors  

The PSF health campaign will be supported by ambassadors including famous DJ/producer Oliver Heldens and Olympic surfing gold medallist, Dorian van Rijsselberghe. 

The Plastic Soup Foundation 

The Plastic Diet is an initiative from the Plastic Soup Foundation. Set up in 2011 with a simple mission: NO PLASTIC WASTE IN OUR WATER! 

Instead of taking plastic waste out of the water, we tackle the problem at its source.  Through awareness campaigns, education programmes and working together with businesses, universities and other NGOs. To reduce and prevent unnecessary plastic use. And stop plastic ending up in the environment.

For more scientific background you can read our position paper: Plastic and Human Health alarming evidence.



, , ,

UNEA3: towards international law against plastic soup

Nairobi, 5 December 2017 – Without dramatic action, plastic production is expected to grow massively in the coming decades, bringing with it an endless wave of plastic waste and plastic pollution. However, there is no international law against plastics flooding into the sea from the land.

This month environment ministers from around the world meet in Nairobi, Kenya for the third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). Plastic pollution is recognised as a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern. UNEA is the place to decide about the next step the world has to take.

A draft resolution, prepared by Norway, calls for the establishment of an Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations to strengthen international governance structures for combating marine plastic litter and microplastics that could lead to the proposition of global convention.

Several member representatives of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement, including the Plastic Soup Foundation, are attending UNEA3 in support of a joint call for an international legally binding agreement on plastics and plastic pollution. Any such convention should include a binding global reduction target, and requirements for loss prevention, collection, and recycling of all plastics. Global quality standards and market restrictions are needed. To ensure governments and industries comply with global targets for reduction a set of strong enforcement mechanisms should be implemented.

#BreakFreeFromPlastic calls for:

  • implementing forms of extended responsibility of plastic producers, like container deposit schemes, in terms of both waste management and full environmental and health costs of plastic;
  • focus on upstream solutions and prevention, not on clean-ups or consumer behavior change;
  • clear mandate for an Ad HocOpen-Ended Working Group to explore international governance structures to address plastic pollution and marine litter.
, , , ,

Fibers from synthetic clothing disastrous for mankind and the oceans

Amsterdam, 8 May 2017 – By machine washing our clothes, we are polluting our seas and oceans. This is the shocking result of years of scientific research, which will be presented during a press conference at the Conscious Hotel in Amsterdam tomorrow. It has been proven that fibers from synthetic clothing are not only found in water, but even in the food we eat and the air we breathe. An International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report published in February 2017 also claims that the use of synthetic fibers increased by 79.3% between 1992 and 2010.

Clothing fibers found in mussels, honey and sea salt
It has long been known that microplastics in cosmetics make their way into our water supply, but this research shows that clothing fiber pollution is significantly greater. It appears that 34.8% of primary microplastics released by machine washing synthetic clothes ultimately ends up in the environment. Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Ultimately, these microfibers wind up on our plates.” Synthetic fibers have been found in plankton, both in farmed and in wild mussels, in sea salt and even in honey. The number of animal species that suffer from plastics that make their way into the environment has gone up to 1220 in 2017, and continues to rise. Westerbos: “It can have myriad consequences: ranging from a worsened condition and internal wounds to starvation and dehydration.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) now considers micro and nanoplastics as a potential threat to our food safety. Consuming fish and shellfish that contain tiny particles of plastic could possibly lead to health risks.

Fibers in the air: breathing our clothes
In 2016, the results were published of a unique sample measurement of microfiber residue in the air in Paris. Between 2 to 355 microfibers were counted per day per square metre; in the city center this number was almost double that of suburbs. Of the clothing fibers that were found, 29% consisted partly or fully of plastic. “The consequences for public health are massive”, Westerbos believes. “The microplastics could emit harmful chemicals deep in the lungs and could even be spread through the body through our circulation, which means the micro particles could even reach unborn babies through the placenta.” 

Individuals and mermaids try to make a difference, industry does nothing
Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) is the communications partner of the Life+ Mermaids consortium. This three-year project saw thorough research performed into fiber loss in washing machines, as well as successful experiments – a world first – with bio-based coatings made from shrimp (chitosan) and plants (pectin), which managed to reduce fiber loss by a spectacular 50%.

During this research project, the Plastic Soup Foundation also actively reached out to other parties aiming to solve this problem. Throughout the world you can find many innovative grassroots attempts to stop fibers from being deposited in the rinse water. In the United States, for example, the Cora Ball is now being produced after a successful crowdfunding campaign. The natural filtration system of coral formed the inspiration for this ball, which filters tiny particles out of the rinse water in the washing machine. Another example is the Guppy Friend, a special bag for in the washing machine created by a group of surfers, skaters and creatives from Berlin. The bag traps microfibers and prevents them from reaching the water supply.

Maria Westerbos: “We are aware that people behind the scenes are hard at work developing an external filter for washing machines, but it is too early to say much about this, yet. It is worrying, however, that so far we have hardly seen any effort from the clothing industry to tackle the problem at the source. Although all the grassroots solutions we have been seeing are fantastic, it is even more important that we see change in the clothes themselves. Instead, the only development we can see is that more and more brands are creating clothing from dangerous ocean plastics, which disintegrate even quicker. This has only made the problem bigger. Only Patagonia and G-Star seem serious about wanting to tackle the problem.”

The research results will be presented at the press conference in the Conscious Hotel in Amsterdam, which will also see the people behind various solutions to the problem meet for the first time.

To access the final Mermaids Life+ reports, please fill in this form to download the files.