Besides water resources, my second great passion is waste.
It goes without saying that I am not talking about the production of waste, but its reduction.
Back at university I really enjoyed all the courses dealing with waste management and life cycle assessment, and, especially during the site visits to the landfills, I remember thinking I should have had an active role in waste reduction. Therefore, I guess the “zero waste” seed was planted a long time ago in my young environmental scientist mind and eventually flourished in this blog and in my recent research.
In fact, as many other scientists worldwide, I am also quite concerned about plastic waste and microplastics pollution. In particular, I am really interested in primary microplastics as emerging contaminants. These are small plastic particles, generally smaller than 5 mm in length, that are intentionally manufactured for use as scrubbing agents in toiletries and cosmetics (e.g. shower gels), industrial application (e.g. sandblasting), textile industry and synthetic clothes production (Crawford and Quinn, 2017). Due to their dimensions they are generally too small to be filtered in the Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTPs), therefore they can be introduced directly into oceans and the natural environment through direct runoff.
In addition, primary microplastics can also originate from the abrasion of large plastic objects during manufacturing, use or maintenance such as the erosion of tyres when driving and the abrasion of infrastructure (household dust, city dust, artificial turfs, harbours and marina, building coating). However, according to some recent studies, synthetic textiles are actually the main source of primary microplastic worldwide.
This can be due to the combined large demand of synthetic clothes associated to the fast fashion typical of the recent years. As a result, not only our oceans are full of plastic microfibres, but it recently emerged that we may all eat and drink them.
The figures are actually scaring. In a research commissioned by Patagonia, scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, estimated that a city of 100,000 people produces 170-441 kilograms of microfibres from washing synthetic clothing per day. Of the amount of microfibres that enter the WWTP, 9-110 kg of microfibres would be released into local water bodies daily, which is an average of 15,000 plastic bags. If we also consider that the current population growth rates and our consumption patterns, it is quite clear that we can not keep underestimating this problem just because we actually do not see the fibres in our glasses.
So, what can we do?
Indeed, the best option is to stop buying synthetic fabrics, opting for natural textiles, and obviously buy less clothes. As citizens we also have the right (and the power) to ask our governments to improve Waste Water Treatment Plants present in our regions, so that to ensure that even small micro-particles are filtered and won’t enter in river, lakes, soils, seas and groundwater. As scientists and water experts, we can engage in giving seminars and organising workshops in our universities and communities to sensitise our students and fellows on such an important issue.
But there is something else we can do while we act (and wait) for a change to happen.
This summer, while writing a project to study microfibres contamination, I come across many interesting blogs and press articles dealing with this issue. In one of them I found a new way to contribute to the reduction of microfibres entering the natural environment: GUPPYFRIEND a wash bag that can capture 99% of the fibres released in the washing process.
It seemed really promising so I decided to buy one and try it…but my boss anticipated me and she got me one for Christmas!
So last week-end I finally used my new washing bag and I can confirm what I have read: it is very simple to use and it really works!
Luckily there wasn’t millions of fibres shedding after this first wash.
According to the GUPPYFRIEND website this is normal, as the soft bag’s surface results in less fibres loss and thus extends garments lifetime. Plus, my clothes were relatively new and I have a front-load washing machine, both proved to result in less microfibres shedding during washing process.
I will try to collect all the fibres shed in future washing and I will update you with the result. In the meanwhile, if you are still looking for the perfect Christmas present I can tell you that GUPPYFRIEND can be the one!
Disclaimer: No compensation was received to write this post. Views are my own.