Wearing clothes worse for microplastic pollution than washing them

Wearing clothes can release even greater quantities of microplastics into the environment than washing them, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth and the Research Council in Italy compared four different items of polyester clothing to see how many microplastic fibres were released when they were being worn and washed.

The items were washed at 40°C and then any fibres released were collected. It showed that anywhere between 700 and 4,000 individual fibres could be released per gram of fabric during a single wash.

They also found that up to 400 fibres could be shed during just 20 minutes of wearing the item.

Scaled up, these results indicated that one person could release almost 900 million polyester microfibres per year to the environment by simply wearing one polyester item.

There were significant differences in the number of microfibres shed depending on how the garments were made.

Therefore, the researchers have said that clothing design and manufacturer has a major role in preventing microfibres from being emitted into the environment.

The polyester/cotton garments showed the greatest release during both washing and wearing, with woven polyester clothing releasing the least quantity of microfibres.

Dr Francesca De Falco, lead author on the current research, said: ‘Recently, more evidence has been accumulating on the presence of synthetic microfibres not only in aquatic environments but also in atmospheric ones.

‘That is why we decided to design this set of experiments to study microfibre release by garments to both media.

‘This is a type of pollution that should be mainly fought at its source, the fabric itself, but we investigated the influence of different textile parameters on the release.

‘Results have shown that textiles with a very compact structure like woven, with yarns highly twisted and composed of continuous filaments, can release fewer microfibres to both air and water.’

In related news, research conducted by academics at the University of Leeds has shown that cooler clothes washes release fewer microfibres into the water stream and also make clothes last longer.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Pippa Neill

Pippa Neill

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