Sustainable Fashion Writer
Recent studies have shown that microplastics accumulate in the environment and enter our food chain at an alarming rate. The micro-plastic particles, which range from microbeads to microscopic plastic fragments, are so small that a vast range of creatures can consume them even before being filtered out by water treatment plants.
The adverse effects on aquatic life are significant as micro-plastics decrease productivity and slow biotic decomposition rates of dead plant material, leading to reduced oxygen levels for marine animals. In addition, micro-plastics also increase the risk of bioaccumulation and transfer toxic chemicals throughout the food chain.
This article will explore what microplastics are, where they come from, how they get into our waterway and the effects of microplastics on aquatic life.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are chemically synthesized materials having a size (or, more precisely, greatest dimension) of less than 5 mm. The highest size limit of the tested plastics is not usually specified in research on the prevalence in the environment. If it can be presumed that the tested plastic objects are in the size range described above, the term microplastics is used. They are microbeads, microfibers, and microparticles that measure less than five millimetres in length. Micro-beads are often found in face wash and toothpaste, while microfibers come from clothes made of polyester or nylon.
There are many microplastic sources, including car tires, wearing away on the road, synthetic fibres being washed down drains, and plastic bottles breaking up into tiny pieces after exposure to sunlight or waves.
Microbeads are not a new issue. Plastic microbeads first appeared in personal care products approximately fifty years ago, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Even recently as 2012, this issue was still largely unknown, with a plethora of items containing plastic microbeads on the market and little public knowledge.
Microplastics in fashion
Another major but often overlooked source of microplastics is in the fashion industry. Textiles are the most common source of primary microplastics (those made to be smaller than 5mm) and account for 34.8 percent of global microplastic pollution. Microfibres are a type of microplastic that is released when synthetic clothing, such as polyester and acrylic, is washed. These fibres separate from our clothing during washing and end up in the sewer. The wastewater is then treated at sewage treatment plants. Because the fibres are so tiny, many of them bypass filtration processes and end up in different bodies of water.
Plastic makes up about half of our clothing, and a typical wash can remove up to 700,000 fibres from synthetic clothing. If the fashion industry continues on this path, several million tonnes of microfibres will enter our oceans between 2021 and 2050.
Fibres to avoid
Textile fibres are classified into two types: natural and synthetic.
Natural fibres originate from nature, such as cotton and flax, or animals, such as silk and wool. Synthetic fibres are, well, composed of synthetic fibres.
Also, semi-synthetic fibres are created from natural resources such as cellulose from trees, but the fibres are manufactured artificially.
The most prevalent synthetic fibres are derived from fossil fuels, and the most popular substance is polyester.
Acrylic is a type of plastic that is created artificially using petroleum. Acrylic is made using many hazardous chemicals and many resources, making this type of synthetic fibre one of the worst for the environment.
The fabric is extremely heat-sensitive and frequently develops pills, which are small microscopic balls that form on the fabric’s surface. Like other synthetic fibres, they produce microscopic microplastics when laundered, which infiltrate water systems and end up in the ocean, causing many health concerns for both animals and people.
Elastane or spandex is another kind of synthetic material. It is extremely stretchy and is frequently combined with other fibres to make clothes more elastic, both natural and artificial.
Other synthetic materials include nylon and polyester. All these materials have this in common: they are non-biodegradable and high-polluting. They are also a large source of microplastics.
How you can limit your exposure to microplastics
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
-Robert Swan, Author
When we learn about sustainability problems on such a large scale, we frequently feel helpless as customers. Replacing your plastic bottle with a reusable one isn’t going to cut it this time. Make sure to ventilate and vacuum your home regularly to guarantee that the plastic fibres are collected.
Choose as many sustainably sourced natural materials as possible when choosing clothing or textiles for your house. Avoid fast fashion, as this model simply encourages overconsumption of garments, particularly synthetic ones like polyester.
Alternatively, urge your favourite fashion brand to accept responsibility for the items they sell. They must ensure that their goods do not endanger our environment, ourselves, and especially future generations.
Sources of microplastics and routes of entry into the aquatic environment
Microplastics in the ecosystem are a diverse set of particles with varying sizes, morphologies, chemical properties, and particular densities that come from many sources. The North Coast, South East Coast, Pacific Coast, Great Lakes, and Persian Gulf gyres have collected airborne microplastics.
They can make their way into the aquatic environment via sewage water. Screens or sieves remove coarse suspended or floating particles from sewage during the main (mechanical) treatment stage in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Sand and other heavy particles are collected in sand traps, while grease separators remove floating debris.
Microplastics can be buried by debris on coastlines and in intertidal beds and therefore discovered at high pressures.
Questions you can ask your fashion brand concerning their commitment to sustainability
Before purchasing any new clothes, ask the following questions to ensure it is made from sustainable materials. If you can’t get an answer on your own, ask the fashion brand or shop you intend to purchase.
Always look for additional information about factories, materials, regulations, and values while purchasing or browsing an online clothes store. It’s a good idea to directly ask the vendor for more transparency, accountability, and sustainability.
It’s logical to seek this type of information; you won’t be the first to do so. Any reputable and ethical fashion brand would gladly address any questions you may have.
- Are they utilizing sustainable fabrics or materials?
Raw materials contribute significantly to the environmental and social effects of clothing. Committing to a limited range of materials as a designer or brand might be challenging — sustainable textiles can be more expensive and difficult to acquire — but it will pay dividends in terms of both impact and functionality in the future.
- Are their products durable and stylish?
One of the best ways to promote sustainable fashion is by buying fewer and more durable clothing. Consider selecting apparel that has a lengthy lifespan, and that is of good quality.Innovative, long-lasting clothes are on the rise thanks to products created from quality and durables materials. It can initially be more expensive, but you will save money by wearing less in the long run.
- Are they a certified brand?
When you’re out shopping, look at the tags to see if they are any emblems or certificates. Certification provides a rigorous program of standards and assessment for a brand and a statement to customers of monitoring, high standards, and purpose. A brand does not need a certification to conduct good work, but they frequently utilize them as a guideline to build out more sustainable supply chains. However, some certifications are not as stringent or have significant weaknesses in monitoring or auditing.
This article discusses how micro-plastics polluting our oceans and waterways may cause adverse effects on marine life, such as decreased productivity (due to slow biotic decomposition), leading to the cumulation of plastics in this environment. It also discusses microbeads (tiny plastic particles) used as exfoliants for products like toothpaste and how they may enter waterways to contaminate food supply by consuming fish and other marine life.
According to the findings, the lowest amounts causing damaging impact in marine animals contacted via water are approximately 104 times greater than maximum microplastic concentrations reported in marine waters. The effect concentration in a water/sediment test using lugworms is greater than microplastic low concentrations in shallow coastal deposits but falls within the range of the maximum values seen in aquatic habitats.
Nevertheless, provided that;
- Enormous quantities of microplastics are already discovered at certain spots (especially in deposits and on beaches),
- Plastics are remarkably resistant to biodegradation,
- Microplastics, mostly in the ecosystem, come from a variety of sources, and
- The abundance of microplastic is expected to increase further due to the disintegration of the current macroplastic situation.
The article suggests minimizing micro-plastics in the environment from using fewer plastics to limiting micro-plastic use in our homes via product packaging. We always aim to give a balanced view of different vantage points, as best we know exists, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!