Image: Many cleaning cloths are made from special microfiber material, such as these cloths used to clean computer screens and glass lenses. Photo by HelenOnline–Own work, Public Domain.
O God of mercy, before Whose door the quintessence of mercy hath bowed down, and round the sanctuary of Whose Cause loving-kindness, in its inmost spirit, hath circled, we beseech Thee, entreating Thine ancient grace, and seeking Thy present favor, that Thou mayest have mercy upon all who are the manifestations of the world of being, and deny them not the outpourings of Thy grace in Thy days.—Bahá’u’lláh
by Christine Muller
Washing synthetic clothing releases tiny particles called microfibers. A study found that “laundering an average washing load of 6kg (13lb) could release an estimated 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic.” (1)
These micro-fibers go into the water supply, the rivers, reservoirs, lakes and the ocean. They can pose a serious threat to aquatic life as well as for human health because these microscopic plastic particles are eaten by animals including fish. When fish eat micro-plastics instead of food, they starve; their growth can be stunted, and they can even die. Moreover, fish absorb toxic chemicals from plastics with still unknown consequences for them and their predators including sea-birds. For human health, this means that eating fish increasingly adds to our overall exposure to toxic chemicals, not only from these micro-plastics but also from the mercury (which comes from coal fired power plants) that also accumulates in fish. It also means that micro-plastics are a further threat to future food supply as fish populations have already alarmingly shrunk because of over-fishing.
So, what can we do? First, do not throw away your synthetic clothing, just try to wash them less often and in a more gentle washing cycle. Second, try to buy clothing from natural fibers.
Of course, individual actions are only part of the solution. The fashion industry should quickly phase out synthetic materials. This problem also calls for advances in large scale water treatment processes.
For more information about an even larger source of micro-plastics that comes from the breakdown of all plastics such as containers and bags, see the February 2021 Sustainable Living Tip on the Harm of Micro-plastics.
(1) Washing clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into environment, study shows, by Alan Williams, September 2016