Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Source of Ocean Plastics - Your Clothing

Today's post, like yesterday's is also about ocean plastics, but it's about research (open access!) that identifies a disturbing new source of ocean plastic - your laundry. The researchers took samples from 18 beaches around the world and also looked at effluent from washing machines and waste-water treatment plants and found small bits of polyester and acrylic fibers everywhere.

I said this was disturbing, as this is a tough one to avoid. We can all do a better job of making sure that large pieces of waste are properly disposed of and not let loose in the environment, and personally living near the North American Pole of Inaccessibility some 1300 miles from the nearest ocean means that even if I threw all my trash out the window, exceedingly little of it would ever reach the ocean, but how can we prevent microfibers from being washed away from our clothing?

I'm not sure that clothing can be suitably modified to solve the problem. It is well known that washing machines abuse and abrade clothing, a large part of the reason that clothes age over time. I also don't think that washing machines can be suitably changed to eliminate this issue either, although I would love to be proven wrong. Changing the wastewater treatment processes might be the best shot, and certainly from a technological view, it can be done with fine enough filters. The economics of that option however are unknown to me, and the same goes for the use of new flocculants or other clarifying aids.

The open question that needs to be answered as well is does this matter negatively impact the oceans to a significant degree?

I also see that the Plastic News blog is discussing this today, with a tongue-in-cheek question about addressing the situation. Check it out.


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