We often hear how harmful plastics are and how they are contaminating our vital ecosystems. While we do realize that major systemic change is definitely needed, many of us have tried to do our part by making small changes to our daily lifestyles, steering clear of plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic toothbrushes, plastic disposable utensils and food containers, and the most infamous of them all: straws. For the greater good, we now opt for reusable bottles, bags, and utensils. We were quick to purchase our bamboo toothbrushes and metal straws. And once we knew that the fashion industry is a major contributor to pollution, we said goodbye to fast fashion and looked for quality sustainable brands. These are all easy actions to help keep our waterways clear of these threats to our ecosystem.
However, there is a more insidious offender in our midst: microfibers. Microfibers are a subset of microplastic that come from synthetic clothing and textiles such as nylon, polyester, and rayon, which are very commonly used in apparel. They are fibers that are released from our synthetic clothing every time we launder them. Because they are so small, microfibers aren’t all caught by wastewater treatment plants and commonly end up in our natural waterways. A study published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources estimates that 0.6-1.7 million tons of microfibers are released into the ocean every year!
This is why the Guardian called the release of microfibers into our oceans ‘the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of’.
What are the impacts of microfibers bleeding into waterways?
Aquatic organisms, directly and indirectly, consume microplastics and microfibers which have caused physical and chemical alterations, that have resulted in starvation and reproductive consequences in species within the food chain. They have been found in species consumed by humans, and abiotic products such as sea salt, but their effects on us are still unknown. A study conducted by Bren School of Environmental Science and Management revealed that most apparel contains large quantities of chemical substances from processing and finishing in garment production, which are released when washed by consumers. Wastewater treatment plants receive large amounts of microfibers daily. While most of the microfibers are removed, a significant amount is still released into our natural environment. When global water and sediment samples were taken, the data indicated that microfibers are found ubiquitously in aquatic environments. There is also evidence that microfiber pollution has seeped into the ground and our atmosphere. Despite terrestrial environments being the primary receptors of microfibers, its distribution in water is currently the best understood.
How can I minimize the microplastic pollution I produce in my daily life?
Thankfully, we can make an easy change to reduce our micro-problem with the Guppyfriend bag, by German nonprofit STOP! Micro Waste.
Although we cannot even begin to cover all the aspects of micro pollution and all the different ways it can be reduced, it does help to start somewhere that you can have an immediate impact. Our clothes. Here are a few simple steps to take the next time you do your laundry:
The bag was tested by scientific institutes such as the University of California in Santa Barbara as part of a Patagonia research program, Fraunhofer Institut, German Textile Research Institute, DTNW.
The Guppyfriend washing bag reduces fiber loss during washing in two ways:
1. The bag significantly reduces the number of fibers that break off in your clothing. One of the main drivers for fiber shedding in the machine is abrasion. By separating the synthetic textiles from other materials and washing them in the soft bag, they are exposed to fewer mechanical forces. It protects the textiles, and the lifetime of the apparel is extended. As a part of an independent test program, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has confirmed that compared to washing without the Guppyfriend, 86% fewer fibers shed from synthetic textiles, 79% for partly synthetic clothes.
2. Microplastic fibers that still break off during washing are then reliably retained by the bag and therefore do not pollute the wastewater. he determined fiber retention capacity in all tests was above 90%, -mostly close to 100%. It's also important to note that no mass loss of the Guppyfriend bag itself was observed.
The Guppyfriend bag also serves as a daily reminder to be mindful of how our daily habits affect the world around us.
Some other interesting findings were that even after 50 washing cycles the bag and all seams are intact (ISO 6330), no toxic additives or harmful substances where found on the product and the amount of fibers that are found in the bag depends on washing conditions and clothing itself (age of clothes, water temperature, kind of washing machine and detergent, etc.).
These studies found that the Guppyfriend significantly reduced the breaking of fibers, and the fibers that do break while washing are reliably contained.
Pollution is all-encompassing, and while we’ve only tapped the surface with the subject of microplastic pollution in relation to the microfibers in our garments and our water systems, it’s important to always look for ways that we can improve and take direct action, no matter how small it seems.