A study reveals that tiny plastic fibers from synthetic clothing which pollute the marine environment, may be entering the food chain.
One potentially harmful discovery I made whilst studying for my MA in Fashion Futures is that many of the mixed fibres used in garments for the high street have components that are now migrating into the food chain through the laundering process. In an article in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, it was found that microplastics have now been discovered in all of the waterways around the earth (Browne et al, 2011), (Eartheasy.com 2012). The long-term health effects of having plastic in our water and food are yet to been fully investigated, so the implications are unknown. The impact that this may have on wildlife needs urgent consideration. What right do we have to contaminate the earth’s water purely for our own personal benefits?
‘Plastic particles less than 1mm, defined as ‘microplastics’, have been steadily accumulating in marine environments across the globe. Studies of shoreline debris at 18 different locations worldwide have identified small, fibrous particles of plastic which are washed up on beaches, embedded in sediments and even found in cell tissues of marine organisms.
While plastic waste on beaches is a common sight, the study reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology noted that about 80% of the plastic they found is in the form of small particles which may not be apparent visually but do pose real concerns of environmental contamination. One concern is the potential for plastic entering the food chain as a consequence of ingestion by marine species.
The sources of plastic contamination are numerous, but researchers who have analyzed the particulate matter have identified synthetic textiles as a primary contributor to the buildup of microplastics found in shoreline areas. When synthetic clothing such as polyester, acrylic and nylon are washed in conventional washing machines, minute fibrous particles are released from the garments and discharged into the environment through sewage outlets. Analysis of sediments at test sites showed that the proportions of polyester and acrylic fibers used in clothing resembled those found in habitats that receive sewage-discharges and sewage-effluent itself. Concentrations of microplastics were found to be highest near urban centers.’