Researchers discover a way to reliably measure the number of microplastics in an average clothes wash

Researchers have identified a new method to reliably measure the number of microplastics released from clothing during domestic laundering. 

Microplastics, which are smaller than 5mm in size and are released from clothing during an average clothes wash are a particular concern for the environment because of their potential to harm marine life and enter into the human food chain.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have been working with the textile industry to understand ways to minimise their release into the environment.

Washing machines vary greatly in terms of spin speed, cycle duration and water use, and these factors have a major impact on microplastic release.

The researchers have created a new test method using a system called ‘gyrowash’ that replicates the actions found in a range of washing machines. Using this one system, the researchers are able to get results that are representative and reliable – we can use this method to compare results across a very broad range of fabric types as we explore solutions to microfibre release.

Dr Mark Sumner, lead author of the study said: ‘Being able to reliably measure the number of microplastics being released during domestic laundry is a vital step in understanding the scale of the problem, and therefore what action is needed to address it.

‘As well as the potential harm to marine and human life, microplastics commonly contain additives such as softeners or antibacterial agents that can be harmful if released into the environment.

‘We can’t assess and compare microfibre release across the industry without a reliable test. We hope that this method will provide the basis for determining the scale of microfibre release as well as help in the process for finding solutions to microfibre pollution.’

In related news, in a bid to reduce the number of microplastics in the environment, researchers from the Institut national de la recherche Scientifique (INRS) have developed a process which uses electrodes to attack the microplastics at the source.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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Pippa Neill

Pippa Neill

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