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It’s raining microplastics, everywhere and every day

Amsterdam, April 17, 2019 – Sometimes the wind brings sand from the Sahara to the Netherlands. The sky can turn orange from it and, with light rain, everything can be covered with a layer of reddish dust. Researchers have turned their attention to microplastics in the air. These also appear to be settling out of the air and able to travel long distances. As a result, they end up everywhere, even in remote natural areas.

New study

In the mountains of the French Pyrenees, far from civilization, it was investigated how many microplastics fall out of the air onto the ground every day. Samples were taken over a five-month period, and measured both dry and wet (carried by raindrops) deposition. On average 249 plastic pieces were found per square meter per day, 73 pieces of film and 44 fibers. Calculations showed that the wind could transport these microplastics easily over a distance of 95 kilometers, and presumably over much longer distances. The article appeared in Nature Geoscience.

Two previous investigations

While quite a lot of research is being done into microplastics that find their way elsewhere via water, our knowledge about microplastics in the air is still very limited. In 2016, microfibre fallout was measured for the first time. In Paris and in a suburb of Paris, the microfibers settling out of the air every day were recorded. Between two and 355 microfibers per square meter per day were counted. Last year, Chinese researchers found that the daily fallout in the Chinese city of Dongguan was between 175 and 313 microplastics per square meter. Most of the microplastics there were synthetic microfibers.


Read also – Microfibers Fallout

Read also – How damaging is breathing in 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

Textile sector ignores problems of plastic microfibres

Amsterdam, 10 January 2018 – You do not see them, but the fibres from synthetic clothing are everywhere. They are in the water and float in the air. We breathe them in and they flutter down to the ground. A diptych in De Groene Amsterdammer last year not only made it clear that an ecological disaster is in the making, but also that nothing is being done to address this disaster.

Two conclusions were drawn by the journalist in the articles that appeared on 24 October and 5 December. One, the fashion industry may pat itself on the back on the subject of sustainability, but it is as still as a mouse on plastic microfibres. The problem of microfibres is given absolutely no priority in the industry. Two, the Government is not intervening and is leaving the initiatives to the market. Last summer, Minister Stientje van Veldhoven (D66) wrote [LINK] to The House of Representatives that “In collaboration with the textile sector, I will first explore the innovative solutions that they see that will prevent fibres from entering the water and will make further agreements about it”. In this case, she referred to the Platform Circulair Textiel (circular textile platform). The objective of this platform, which is made up of textile companies, is to further the circular economy in the clothing and textile sector. To this end, it published the Roadmap Circulair Textiel (in Dutch). Has the sector already thought about addressing the release of plastic microfibres when synthetic textiles are washed and dried? An estimated average of nine million fibres are lost in every five kilos of polyester washed, research published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution showed at the end of 2017. Despite the increasing amount of scientific research that point to the problems of plastic microfibres, the Platform Circulair Textiel is completely ignoring this environmental problem. In contrast, making thread from PET bottles is presented in the Roadmap as a positive example of circular design. As if textiles made of PET bottles have no undesirable loss of fibres.

The chance that the textile sector itself comes up with solutions, which the Minister would like, seems minimal. This is confirmed by a small-scale investigation commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation and done by students of the University of Amsterdam last autumn.

The sustainability managers of nine randomly chosen companies in the textile sector were interviewed. The interviews revolved around two core questions: “What do companies in the textile sector know about plastic microfibres?” and “Are the companies open for solutions?”

The first striking finding was that there is a major lack of knowledge. Of the companies interviewed, one third did not know about the problem of plastic microfibres. And that it is a great problem was not accepted “because customers never ask about it”. The companies also do not believe that the sector could be self-regulating. The only thing that would help is if the government passes regulations to which all the companies must adhere. The students also observed that there are no commercial stimuli for companies to solve the problem. The students aptly called their research Plastic microvezels. De Achilleshiel van de Circulaire Economie (plastic microfibres: the Achilles heel of the circular economy).

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “Government and textile companies point at each other, and mostly turn away from this problem. This has to change fast. We started the Ocean Clean Wash campaign a few years ago and invite textile companies throughout the chain to join. At the beginning of February, we will make known new test results on questions such as the number of fibres some large brands’ clothing loses. We will also make some solutions widely known. I would like to see the Minister now to discuss these pioneering innovations.”

Also read – Waste2Wear hides the real problem: microfibres.

 

WASTE2WEAR HIDES THE REAL PROBLEM: MICROFIBRES

Amsterdam, 18 December 2018 – The company Waste2Wear produces brand clothing made from PET bottles. 30% of those plastic bottles are retrieved from the ocean. Several clothing brands joined this initiative, brands such as Promiss, Claudia Sträter, Wehkamp, Steps, Oilly, Joolz and Expresso. Together with these companies, Waste2Wear’s Ocean Plastic Project processes two million bottles into 100,000 fashion items for the winter of 2018. Waste2Wear may seem to be a sympathetic idea: “We work together on solutions and say NO against Ocean Pollution.”

However, there is one big problem. The wear and washing of synthetic clothing generates millions of microfibers. A 2016 study of the European Mermaids Life+, published in Environmental Pollution, showed that on average 9 million of microfibers are released during the laundry cycle of 5 kilos of synthetic clothing. And these fibers are so tiny that they can found everywhere, in the air, in house dust and in
the water. These microfibers become part of the food chain and enter our bodies. This causes researchers great concern.

Does Waste2Wear try to save to world by removing plastic bottles from the ocean and recycling them into new clothing? Or is Waste2Wear part of the plastic soup problem? As this company’s clothing produces
microfibers?

On their website Waste2Wear discusses the microfiber problem. Waste2Wear recognizes in their FAQs that microfiber pollution is a major and growing concern for the textile and clothing industry. And there is a long way to go before this problem is solved. However, they continue to state that recycled plastics produce 55% less microfibers than the normal polyester. These numbers supposed to originate from a Swedish study. The first results of this research are “very positive for recycled plastic.”

This is where Waste2Wear misleads the readers. The quoted study from 2017, does not mention this number of 55% anywhere. Furthermore, the research never draws the conclusion that it is better to use recycled plastics. The study does state that it cannot support the, often made, assumption that textiles made from recycled polymers generate more microfibers than clothing made from “new”
plastics.

The same authors published in Sustainability, the article “Microplastics Shedding from Textiles” in 2018. This article does not support the Waste2Wear claim either. On the contrary: “The results show little difference in [shedding] between virgin and recycled content in the fabric.”

Waste2Wear says NO against Ocean Pollution, but the painful truth is that Waste2Wear is part of the plastic soup problem.

We ingest more microplastics through dust fallout than mussel consumption

Amsterdam, 24 August 2018 – Household fiber fallout contains a lot of plastic. The risk of ingesting microplastics via mussel consumption is minimal when compared to plastic fibers that descend in a household environment during the preparation of a meal. This is one of the results from a recent research that investigated Scottish mussels for microplastics content.

Three experiments in total were conducted:

  • For the duration of one year, the blue mussel was kept caged in an estuary near Edinburgh. This experiment investigated possible seasonal differences in plastic pollution. Significantly more microplastics were found in the first winter. This can be explained by the increased water drainage through the river Forth that winter.
  • The blue mussel, Mediterranean mussel and the Baltic Sea mussel were collected in various locations around Scotland to see if plastic pollution differs per location. No difference was found.
  • The protected Northern horsemussel was collected from one location. This mussel has never before been investigated for the presence of microplastics.

Microplastics were found in all mussel species. The research, published in the Environmental Pollution, is the first to show that microplastics are also present in the protected Northern horsemussel, although significantly less. Because this mussel is far larger than the other species, it is better capable of filtering water and therefore expels more microplastics.

Almost all microplastics that were found were polyester fibers (99%). Clothing fibers are released during a machine wash and are too small to be caught by sewage treatment plants, which causes them to end up in the environment. Based on the research results, the average intake of microplastics through mussel consumption in the UK is estimated to around 123 particles per person each year.

Finally, research was done into the degree in which people are exposed to microplastics during the consumption of dinner. Microplastics in the air can end up in our food during and after the meal preparation. The exposure to microplastics as a result of domestic dust fallout was estimated between 14.000 and 68.000 particles a year. The researchers concluded that mussel consumption leads to a far smaller exposure than dust fallout.

Waste2wear ocean plastic project

Amsterdam, 18 August 2018 – Since some days Waste2Wear textile products are for sale in Dutch shops. These products are made of waste plastic by Indian home weavers. Part of the waste plastic are bottles from the sea. This has multiple advantages: home weavers receive better pay, stray bottles are taken from the sea and there is more attention for the plastic soup.

The Waste2Wear website provides background information that indicates the need to reduce plastic pollution of the ocean. In support it says for instance: “Studies have also shown that thousands of pieces of microplastic are even consumed by humans through seafood and table salt every year.”

Many organizations are involved in the initiative. Waste2Wear, Chinese and Dutch universities, the Dutch Consulate in Shanghai, Chinese NGOs and a number of companies. They have jointly set themselves the goal to tackle the problem of the plastic soup through an innovative concept.

Waste2Wear may seem to be a sympathetic idea, but making textiles from plastic waste is not a solution. The website does not mention that those “thousands of pieces or microplastic” are to a large extent released byplastic clothing. When synthetic textiles are machine washed and dried, an average of 9 million microfibers are released in each 5 kilograms wash, according to a study that appeared last year.

Plastic Soup Foundation’s Managing Director Maria Westerbos: “We welcome the fact that attention is asked for the plastic soup, but the of Waste2Wear initiative is not a solution. The real solution lies in cutting back the use of plastic as a raw material. “

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Swiss Alps: microplastics everywhere

Amsterdam, 4 May 2018 – By now it is almost too obvious to state that all across the world plastic is found in the environment. That it is actually true has been shown by a new Swiss study. Even in the most remote nature reserves high up in the mountains microplastics are being discovered and far more than researchers had expected. Moreover, The Guardian, who reports on the research, points out that Switzerland is the best-performing European country when it comes to collecting plastic waste. All the plastic is collected and then recycled or burned. Nevertheless, microplastics are found all around.

The research analyzed soil samples from 29 river catchment areas. The researchers found microplastics in 90% of the samples. There was a clear connection between high concentrations of microplastics and the presence of larger pieces of plastic, the mesoplastics. The microplastics in this instance seem to originate from plastic waste through fragmentation. A connection to population density was also shown; the higher the number of people in an area, the higher the concentration of microplastics.

Especially striking was the presence of microplastics in the remote national reserves, which can only be reached on foot. These mostly concerned very tiny plastic particles (<500 μm diameter). The researchers state that this is due to distribution through wind.

The research appeared in Environmental Science and Technology.


Also read: Poor air quality caused by microplastics

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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.