How much plastic is our clothing sending out to sea?
We frequently talk of single-use plastics and the current worldwide efforts to reduce the use of these plastic products which end up in our oceans, but as we seek solutions to the issue of plastic pollution, we need to acknowledge that our clothing is a major part of the problem.
Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibres (all of which are forms of plastic) are now about 60% of the materials that make up our clothes worldwide. These fibres contribute to ocean plastic pollution in a subtle but pervasive way.
Microfibres are a type of microplastic. A microplastic is a piece of plastic that is less than 5mm long.
With each wash, tiny microscopic pieces of plastic (microfibres) are released from synthetic textiles making their way from washing machines into rivers and oceans. A single piece of clothing can release a suggested 700,000 microfibres in one wash (Greenpeace, 2017).
Once in the environment, the tiny plastic particles are being consumed by marine life and accumulate throughout the food chain.
It's estimated that 35% of the microplastics that enter the ocean come from synthetic textiles (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2017).
An article in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal estimated that "a population of 100,000 people would produce approximately 1.02 kilograms of fibres each day" (Hartline et al, 2016).
For the population size of Australia, that's equivalent to 255 kilograms of microfibres per day, or over 93 tonnes of tiny plastic particles per year. While a certain portion of the microfibres are caught by sewage treatment works, far too much is still finding its way into our waterways and oceans.
Synthetics are undoubtedly a significant contributor to global plastic pollution.
“From bottles to packaging to microplastics, companies need to take responsibility for what they produce; governments need to legislate for change – and all of us need to change how we think about plastic," says Louise Edge of Greenpeace UK.