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.
There are currently some initiatives that come from environmental minded, grass roots entrepreneurs. We promote these solutions as they contribute to solving the problem of microfiber release into the environment. All solutions listed below agreed to have their innovations tested for their efficiency.
Guppy Friend Washing Bag:
The GUPPY FRIEND washing bag from Langbrett filters out microfibers that are released from textiles during washing. The producers claim that the fabric bag, made of a specially-designed microfilter material, captures 99% of fibers released in the washing process. GUPPY FRIEND is a start-up based in Germany, Berlin. The goal is to reduce plastics and prevent micro waste pollution entering the world’s rivers and oceans. In addition to the GUPPY FRIEND washing machine bag, Langbrett is also developing a filter for washbasins, for household and commercial use as well as restraint devices for floating debris.
The Cora Ball is the first microfiber-catching laundry ball. The Cora Ball was designed by a team of ocean scientists, educators and environmental protectors at the Rozalia Project, as a human-scale, consumer solution. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Cora Ball is moving forward with production and expected to launch direct sales in the USA in late July with other countries to follow.
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 MEMRMAIDS project also studied the influence of detergents and washing conditions on the microplastic release30. 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 developing coatings based on two biopolymers deriving from natural sources: chitosan and pectin.
Chitosan is obtained from the deacetylation of the chitin contained in the exoskeleton of crustaceans. This, being a waste product of the food industry, is widely available in the market at a low price. Moreover, chitosan shows the advantages of being non-toxic, biocompatible and completely biodegradable, with a chemical structure similar to cellulose; it is the polymer of the 2-amino-2-deoxy-β-D- glucopyranose, because the hydroxyls –OH situated in position 2 are substituted by amino groups –NH2.
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 cheap and abundantly available, being a waste product of fruit juice, sunflower oil, and sugar manufacture.
Both finishing treatments based on chitosan and pectin, showed promising results but they still need optimization and further experimental activities.