Though microplastics were identified in the ocean in the early 70’s, we have only recently started understanding where they are coming from, and the threat they represent in the ocean.
Recent reports indicate that a majority of microplastics are microfibers, and likely coming from the breakdown of synthetic fibers during laundering. We are all familiar with the phenomenon… wash a swimsuit too often, and it loses its stretch. This is because the tiny plastic fibers (in the case of a swimsuit probably polyester or nylon) break down, and are washed out during the rinse cycle. Numerous contraptions have been invented to try and prevent the release of these fibers. All kinds of claims have been made about how to prevent this microfiber release: don’t use detergent, shorter rinse cycles, cold water, etc, etc. A new publication is debunking some of these claims, and looking to better understand what is really happening in our laundry machines.
It turns out, temperature and cycle length have little to do with fiber shedding. Use of detergents influenced the shedding rate the most. The study concludes that the length of microfibers is determined by the yarn spinning mechanism, because regardless of treatment the length of the microfibers were consistent. And as usual, the research created new questions about how these fibers are actually released from clothes, prompting new research.
Read the press release here
Find the original publication here