Washing clothes has been widely reported as a contributor to micro plastics pollution. A study released in June by the University of California Santa Barbara, in association with a clothes company Patagonia found that each wash of a synthetic fleece jacket released on an average of 1.7 gms of microfibres.
Not only that, each cycle of a washing machine releases more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, says another study. A team at Plymouth University in the UK spent 12 months analysing what happened when a number of synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines using different combinations of detergents to quantify the micro fibres shed. They found that acrylic was the worst offender releasing nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric and nearly 1.5 times as much as polyester.
These micro fibres track through domestic wastewater into sewage treatment plants where some of the tiny plastic fragments are captured as part of sewage sludge. The rest pass through into rivers and eventually, oceans. A paper published in 2011 found that micro fibres made up 85 per cent of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.
The impact of micro plastic pollution is not fully understood but studies have suggested that it has the potential of poisoning the food chain built up in animals’ digestive tracts, reduce the ability of some organisms to absorb energy from foods in the normal manner and even to change the behaviour of crabs. These tiny plastics are just the tip of the iceberg of the estimated 12m tons of plastic that enters the sea every year, revealed Louise Edge, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.