Many people have made the shift from using one-use plastic water bottles to reusable bottles because of the impact it has on our planet. But most people don't necessarily make the connection between their clothing and plastic waste. The topic of pollution from microplastics is gaining prevalence with those concerned about protecting the environment. Microplastics have not only been found in our oceans, rivers, and lakes – but also aquatic life, birds, and soil.
Microplastics are indeed micro in size, but the problems they cause are astronomical. Northern Threads is tackling the microplastics problem by vowing to only use natural fabrics like 100% cotton because of its biodegradability, stopping plastic pollution in our earth’s water supply in its tracks.
Breaking Down Microplastics & Microfibres
Polyester fibres are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used widely in plastic bottle packaging and textiles. Micro plastics are classified as plastic particles under 5mm in length.
All fabrics (both natural and synthetic) shed microfibres each time you wash them which end up entering our waterways and even our soil. Natural based fabrics (such as cotton) release more microfibres when laundered; however it will not cause environmental harm due to its organic compound and the high percentage of biodegradability.
Every time we wash a synthetic garment, about 1,900 individual microplastics are released into our water streams, making their way into our ocean. It is estimated there is a minimum of 5.25 trillion plastic particles, weighing 270,000 tons, floating in the worlds' oceans.
In short, synthetic fibres contribute to the plastic pollution in the earth water supply by shedding microplastics when you launder them.
Biodegradability of Polyester
All materials and fabric biodegrade, but the rate at which they decompose vary greatly depending on their fabrication content. One study showed that over eight months, cotton degrades 95% more than polyester in wastewater and will continue to deteriorate further overtime; polyester degradation plateaued at 5%.
Laundering of polyester fabrics release microplastics that do not break down but instead will continue to accumulate and cause harm to aquatic creatures in oceans and lakes.
Wastewater treatment plants limit the number of microplastics that end up in our water bodies although a small percentage does seep through.
About 98% of microfibres is filtered through the wastewater treatment process, but the remaining 2% gets released to our lakes, rivers, and oceans. The percentage may seem small, but the amount is considerable because of the large amount of water that the plants manage.
Much of what is filtered ends up in the solid portion of the wastewater treatment process, which is repurposed as agricultural fertilizer that we use in our soil to grow crops for us to consume.
Unfortunately, there isn't much to mitigate microfibres in our home just yet until new washing machines and dryers are introduced to be able to capture them.
In the meantime, we strongly encourage everyone to take initiative by becoming more conscious of what fabrics they wear, reconsider how often they launder, and think twice about where you choose to invest your dollars as consumers.
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