13,000 tonnes of microfibres are released from washing machines into European marine environments every single year, according to a new study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Every time you wash your clothes, thousands of tiny microfibres from the fabric are released from the washing machine into the waterways, causing marine pollution.
Researchers from Northumbria University have worked in partnership with Procter & Gamble, producers of laundry detergents Ariel and Lenor, on a major forensic study to test the environmental impact of these fibres.
The researchers found that on average 114mg of microfibres were released per kilogram of fabric in each wash load during a standard washing cycle.
Given the fact that an estimated 35.6 billion wash loads are completed in 23 European countries each year, the researchers have estimated that 12,709 tonnes of microfibres are released into Europe’s waterways annually. This is equivalent to two rubbish trucks worth of waste being dumped into the oceans every single day.
However, the researchers found that there was a simple solution to this problem, by switching to cooler and faster washes it could reduce the number of microfibres by 30% and could potentially save 3,813 tonnes of waste from being washed into the marine environments each year.
The researchers also used forensic science test methods to examine the structure and composition of the fibres being released from the clothing. They found that 96% of the fibres were natural, coming from cotton, wool and viscose. This is is a positive point with natural fibres able to biodegrade more quickly.
John R. Dean, Professor of Analytical and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, who led the study, said: ‘This is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fibre release.
‘We were surprised not only by the sheer quantity of fibres coming from these domestic wash loads but also to see that the composition of microfibres coming out of the washing machine does not match the composition of clothing going into the machine, due to the way fabrics are constructed.
‘Finding an ultimate solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibres released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design.’
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