Realistic Things You Can Do About Ocean Microplastics
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
If you were to look at the tags on everything in your wardrobe, you'd notice that much of what you're wearing is made of synthetic fibers (nylon, spandex, microfleece, rayon, polyester, etc.) These fabrics 'shed' microfibers when you wash them, and these microfibers come out in the discharge water from your washing machine. They eventually make their way to the ocean and enter the water supply and the food chain.
"We find these tiny fibers in samples from headwater streams, rivers, soils, lakes, sediments, ocean water, the deep-sea, wildlife, arctic sea ice, seafood, drinking water and table salt. In our own samples from the Great Lakes, our research lab sometimes finds more than 100 microfibers in an individual fish. Such widespread exposure raises concerns about effects to wildlife and human health." - Chelsea Rochman, University of Toronto
While having a wardrobe composed entirely of natural fibers (cotton, wool, silk, leather, hemp, etc.) would eliminate the problem of microplastics entering waterways from washing machines, I'm not sure that's very realistic for everyone. Unfortunately, natural fibers are almost always more expensive than synthetic fibers. Synthetic fabrics are petroleum-based, and as oil prices continue to tumble and a future oil glut is on the horizon to further repress prices, that's not going to change any time soon. Cotton has its own environmental and social issues, and some people are opposed to the use of any animal products like wool or silk. Furthermore, thrift and resale store shopping continues to be popular for both economic and environmental reasons, and finding natural fibers at these shops is a challenge.
Hemp is typically much more eco-friendly than cotton, but it isn't widely available and affordable just yet. I hope we'll be seeing much more hemp clothing in the future.
So, what can we do? Here are some new products that have been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of microplastics generated by washing machines.
THE LINT LUV-R
In a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin authored by researchers from University of Toronto and the Ocean Conservancy, the Lint Luv-R removed 87% of microplastic from washing machine effluent. Lint LUV-R prevents septic system failure by removing lint and synthetic solids from washing machine discharge. The filter easily mounts under a cabinet or shelf, or to a wall, next to the washing machine. The washing machine discharge hose adapts to the inlet port of the Lint LUV-R. Discharge passes through the filter to the outlet port, leaving behind lint on the outside of the screen. A hose directs the filtered discharge from the outlet port into the washing machine drainpipe and on to the septic system. The clear filter bowl and drain hose allow you to see the filter in operation.
According to the manufacturer, the Lint Luv-R:
Protects plumbing & septic systems from blockages
Screens out synthetic microplastic fibers
Filters solids from greywater
Compact, durable design made of stainless steel
Is easy to install & clean with no maintenance costs
You can learn more about the Lint Luv-R and purchase it HERE.
THE CORA BALL
The Cora Ball does not require any installation - you just drop it into your washing machine and do your wash as usual. Cora swooshes around in the laundry and just like coral, allows water to flow, while catching microfibers. Rachel Z. Miller, Cora Ball's CEO, notes that "Using different strategies, we are all working toward the same goal. In many ways, the CoraBall and Lint Luv-R are complementary. Cora Ball could even reduce the frequency that the Lint LUV-R needs to be cleaned."
She also notes that the Lint LUV-R captured longer fibers, while Cora Ball can catch the smallest ones, which is another way they can work together.
You can learn more about the Cora Ball and purchase it HERE.
THE GUPPY FRIEND
The Guppy Friend is a bag that you fill with synthetic fiber clothing and then add the entire bag to the washing machine (it's a similar concept to adding delicates like lingerie to washing bags). The microfibers are collected in the bag before they are able to go down the drain on their way to the ocean. What's more, the profits from the sale of Guppyfriend go to STOP! Micro Waste and the STOP! Plastic Academy to raise awareness about (micro)plastic pollution and to educate students, adults and industry partners about the problem.
You can learn more about Guppyfriend and purchase it HERE.
CAN DRYER LINT BE COMPOSTED?
Unfortunately, no. Not unless you're washing your natural fiber clothing and linens separately from any clothing containing synthetic fibers. Otherwise, the lint is full of essentially plastic, which of course should never be in a compost pile.
OTHER SOURCES OF MICROPLASTIC POLLUTION
Of course, synthetic fiber clothing is not the only source of ocean microplastics, but it is the largest. Car tires, cigarette filters, marine coatings, and geological/environmental action on larger plastics in the ocean are just some of the sources of microplastic pollution. But by doing our part in our own laundry rooms, we can help make a dent in the largest source of ocean microplastics and help keep those plastics out of our water and our food!