Is Your Laundry Adding to Ocean Pollution?
Author: Baykeeper Intern-Anonymous
Using a washing machine for synthetic clothing like nylon, rayon, and acrylic may seem harmless, but various studies have shown links to added plastic pollution in the oceans. Though the amount depends on many factors, each wash of any synthetic, plastic-based fabric releases small amounts of plastic into the sewage system that are not large enough to be picked up by sewage plants and make their way into the output of the plant, most of which empties directly into rivers and oceans around the world.
These plastics are so harmful in the ocean because of their size. Larger plastics like cups and straws only make their way to the top of the food chain, but microfibers, which are so small that they can measure mere millimeters in length and micrometers in diameter, can make their way into the food chain starting from the bottom, so the entire ecosystem is affected.
Many solutions to the problem also bring up their own environmental issues. Increasing the size of the filters at the sewage plant would take the microfibers out of the ocean directly, but would also group the microfibers into fertilizer, where they would invade land ecosystems. Buying less synthetic clothing is also an issue, not only because natural fibers require a large water use to grow to an adequate amount, but also because plastic clothes are usually much cheaper, making clothing made purely of natural fibers a luxury that is not financially feasible for everyone.
Vox suggests changing the washing machines themselves. Even without adding a filter, a study found that there are differences in the amount of microfibers released depending on the orientation of the machine, with top loading machines releasing seven times the amount of fibers as front loading washing machines. Different styles of plastic clothing also release different amounts of fibers, with more tightly woven clothes releasing exponentially less microfibers into the sewers.
Recognizing the issue and making steps to change the amount of plastic microfibers being dumped into the ocean each day is a huge step to lowering pollution, and one way to do that is to change the way that we handle synthetic fibers in a way that everyone can afford.