The release of plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing problem demands a solution-oriented collaborative effort from industry—including fashion companies and producers of washing machines, detergents, and yarns—to find sustainable long-term solutions to stop the release of microplastic fibers from laundry washing.
In August 2018, Ocean Clean Wash made plans to redirect the campaign so as to close the loop of microfiber pollution from synthetic clothes: we are tackling each step of the value chain and looking for solutions. We expect a reduction of 80% of synthetic microfiber release in the coming years. In order to do this, we have gathered stakeholders from each stage of the product lifecycle that has shown interest in working on and promoting solutions.
In the meantime, we have recognized that there are currently some initiatives coming from environmental minded, grass roots entrepreneurs. We promote these solutions as they contribute to solving the problem of microfiber release into the environment.
Planet Care Washing Machine Filter:
PlanetCare is the developer of one of the best solutions to date: a thoroughly tested washing machine filter that catches at least 80% of the released plastic fibres before they disappear down the drain. Clever technology and useful applications enable PlanetCare to develop a consumer friendly product at low cost. Regulations may follow that require manufacturers to incorporate the filter in new washing machines as a matter of course. Apart from this, for washing machines now that do not have the filter, PlanetCare is developing several add-on applications. Solutions for industrial washing facilities are also at an advanced stage.
Read more about it here.
At the moment, there are also other solutions to prevent microfiber pollution from synthetic clothes available to the public:
- Guppy Friend washing bag from Langbrett
- Cora Ball, microfiber-catching laundry ball
- Filtrol 160, washing machine lint filter
- Lint LUV-r, washing machine discharge filter
- Xeros Technologies, washing machine filter
As part of the Mermaids Life+ project, we developed a Handbook for zero microplastics from textiles and laundry for the textile industry. The handbook can be downloaded here. The Mermaids Life+ project also developed a Good Practice Guide to provide consumers with useful tips regarding washing habits.
The MERMAIDS research identified different critical parameters that have a strong impact on microplastics release during the washing process. These parameters are summarized below:
- Fiber length: the shorter the fibers, the higher the probability to migrate to the yarn surface and increasing their hairiness and their pilling. As a consequence increasing their release during the laundry process.
- Yarn twist: the yarn resistance and elasticity increase with the twist. More compact yarns are achieved with higher twist values.
- Linear density (yarn count): The number of microfibers released will increase with the yarn count due to a larger amount of fibers per cross section.
- Fabric density: a higher number of yarns per unit length will result in a tighter structure with lower probability to fiber release.
- Textile auxiliaries: provide physical protection of fibers against abrasion/reduction of coefficient of friction (fiber-fiber, fiber-detergent) during laundry.
Indications show that the way a yarn is designed has a big impact on the breaking/degrading of the yarn into smaller micro- and nanoparticles. Yarn producers and clothing companies can use these parameters in their design to create yarn and textiles that release less microfibers during the washing process. Pre-sale washing also seems promising. MERMAIDS research showed that during the first wash significantly more microfibers are released. A possible option is to carry out a first controlled washing of fabrics (capturing the microfibers released during this first washing) before putting them on sale.
DETERGENTS AND WASHING CONDITIONS
The research activities carried out during the MERMAIDS project also studied the influence of detergents and washing conditions on the microplastic release. Several trials were performed, eventually pointing out that:
- Powder detergents, higher pH of the washing liquor and the usage of powder oxidizing agents favor the microfiber release;
- softener or special detergents (for delicate and synthetic fabrics) reduce the release;
- washing conditions such as high temperature, long washing time and strong mechanical actions, favor the release of microfibers from the fabrics.
During the MERMAIDS research, different coatings were tested on different yarn types and materials. Firstly, commercial textile auxiliaries were tested and applied to fabrics. The results of this experimental phase showed that finishing treatments based on silicon emulsions and acrylic resins were able to reduce the amount of microfibers released during washing processes. Then, further researches were carried out on developing coatings based on two biopolymers deriving from natural sources: chitosan and pectin. Pectin has proven to be the most successful.
Pectin is mainly extracted from suitable agro-by-products like citrus peel and apple pomace and used in the food industry as natural ingredients for their gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties. It is a mainly linear polysaccharide whose principle chemical unit is based on D-galacturonic acid monomer. Such polysaccharide represents an interesting biomaterial because it is cheap and abundantly available, being a waste product of fruit juice, sunflower oil, and sugar manufacture. Further research on the feasibility of this coating is being currently undertaken.
Every year, Europeans do around 36 billion loads of washing and most of them contain synthetic clothes, releasing millions of non-degradable fibres into the waste water. Most of these fibres slip undetected through water treatment plants and out to the sea.
With small changes in your washing habits, you can reduce the amount of fibres you shed:
- Fill up your washing machine to the max: washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes and, therefore, less fibres are released.
- Use washing liquid instead of powder: the ‘scrub’ function of the grains of the powder result in loosening the fibres of clothes more than with liquid.
- Use a fabric softener: some ingredients in fabric softeners reduce friction between fibres so the release decreases.
- Wash at a low temperature: when clothes are washed at a high temperature some fabrics are damaged, leading to the release of fibres.
- Avoid long washings: long periods of washing cause more friction between fabrics, which supposes more tearing of the fibres.
- Dry spin clothes at low revs: higher revolutions increase the friction between the clothes, resulting in higher chances of fibres loosening.
- Avoid buying synthetic clothes and look for wool, cotton, linen, silk, cashmere or other natural fabrics.