The Invisible Mess
You’ll be able to easily reduce your contribution to ocean plastics once you know this one fact: the biggest source of ocean micro-plastics is coming from your laundry. Everyone knows of the issue of micro-plastic beads in toothpaste and facial cleaners. It tends to get the bulk of media attention when it comes to micro-plastics, but that source only contributes 2% of ocean micro-plastics. Your laundry? 35%! The good news is, you can do some very simple things to reduce this problem at the source.
Plastic fibres are very durable but they do break down. Over time, wear and tear break individual fibres and they break off. Just cleaning out the lint trap in our dryers shows how much of this stuff comes off. That source is at least easy to clean up and we can throw that stuff in the garbage where they’ll be contained in a landfill. What is out of mind is the lint coming out during the wash. That stuff goes down the drain pipe and eventually into our lakes and oceans. And if you’re like most people, about half of those fibres are synthetic. But why should we be concerned?
Being synthetic, plastic molecules are not recognized by nature and the carbon to carbon chains within the molecules are very strong, requiring a lot of energy to break. With no natural processes to break them down plastics stay in the environment for hundreds of years. But the worse part is they are breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Most of the plastics in our oceans are invisible, at least for us. They’re visible to marine life that feeds on plankton. Micro-plastics look like plankton, and even smells like food to marine life. As plankton is at the bottom of the marine food chain that plastic makes its way up the chain and into the flesh of the fishes that we eat.
Studies have also shown that micro-plastics is in our drinking water. Most of the bottled water tested had bits of plastics in them. But is it bad? There’re reasons to believe these plastic bits are not benign. Plastic molecules are organic compounds, and as such, they absorb other organic compounds such as all those other toxins that we release into the ocean. Plastics are like sponges for toxins.
Slow The Breakdown of Plastics
So what can you do? Take care of your garments. Two main things break down fabrics–heat and agitation. The ways clothes are cleaned are also the main ways in which they wear out. So the simple thing to do is to be gentle on your clothing by washing and drying on lower heat settings and gentler cycles. Many people are already using only cold water and delicate cycles for both the washer and dryer. The bonus is that your clothes will last longer, saving you money.
If you want to go further, line-dry instead of using the dryer. There’s no tumbling and no high heat involved. Plus you’ll save energy and your clothes will smell great naturally. What about the winter time? Most people on this earth do not use dryers– it’s mostly a North American thing. In the winter they hang their clothes indoors.
Avoid Plastic Fabrics Altogether
The best way to avoid any problem is to avoid it altogether. Remember, the first R of the Three Rs is Reduce. Simply check the label of the clothes you buy. Avoid clothing that contains: polyester, nylon, rayon, polypropylene, lycra, etc.–basically poly-anything. Of course, sometimes artificial clothing is unavoidable such as for high-performance athletic clothing. While there are issues even with natural fibres they’re a relatively shorter term or can be manageable. Natural fibres do eventually break down in the environment.
And the best way to avoid plastic clothing is to just buy less clothing. A lot of our environmental problems stems from our over-consumption. Clothes quickly go out of fashion and are relatively cheap. We dump tonnes of the stuff into third world countries where they devastate the local clothing industry and much of it ends up in the landfill. Just say no.
Make a Laundry Filter
This step may be a little harder but not by much. That hose that comes out of your washer is where that plastic is coming out of, so it’s not too hard to capture those fibres. If you have an older house and your washing machine empties into a laundry tub you can make a very simple container that filters out most of those fibres. If you have a more modern setup where the hose drains right into a pipe it’s a little more complicated. In the next article, we show you step by step how to make your own laundry filter.
So, this is one environmental problem that you have power over. No doubt there will be people out there who will provide even better solutions for this. In the meantime join the many people who are taking simple steps to tackle ocean plastics.