Washing machines release over 800,000 plastic micro-fibres in one cycle

The higher the volume of water in a washing machine cycle, the more plastic micro-fibres are released, regardless of the speed and force of the washing machine, a study published on September 28 in the Environmental Science and Technology journal has revealed.

Working with Procter & Gamble, a team of scientists at Newcastle University used a tergotometer, which is a benchtop device comprising of eight washing vessels, to carry out tests under different conditions to measure the release of plastic micro-fibres from polyester clothing.

The study found that thousands of plastic micro-fibres are released every time we wash clothes that are made from man-made materials such as nylon, polyester and acrylic.

By using a DigiEye camera to count the number of micro-fibres released, the team noticed that the higher the volume of water, the more fibres released, regardless of the speed and abrasive forces of the washing machine.

They found that a delicate cycle, which uses the highest volume of water, releases around 800,000 micro-fibres per cycle, and because these fibres are so small they drain out of the washing machine and can enter the marine environment.

A study published in 2017 by scientists at Newcastle University revealed that these microfibres have now reached some of the deepest parts of our oceans.

The study examined 90 individual species and found that ingestion of plastic ranged from 50% in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing society today and understanding the key sources is an important process in helping to reduce the impact on the environment.

Neil Lant, a research fellow at Procter & Gamble and co-author of the study said: ‘The appliance industry has started to introduce micro-fibre filters in some new washing machines and the textile industry is looking to reduce the fibre shedding levels of new clothing.’

‘We hope that the issue will ultimately be solved by such actions and our work on the mechanistic causes will help in the development of these solutions.’

In other related news, ‘natural’ textile fibres may be an even bigger environmental threat than microplastic pollution, new research by the University of Nottingham recently found.

Another study found that microplastics in the guts of every marine mammal washed up on Britain’s shores.

Photo credit – Pixabay

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