Microplastics from synthetic textile fibres are primarily responsible for the pollution of our seas

Clothing made of synthetic fibres is the number one enemy of our oceans

Microplastics from synthetic textile fibres, used in fabrics and padding for clothing, in accessories or in home textiles, are one of the greatest sources of marine pollution from plastics.

What do microplastics and microplastics from textile fibres mean?

  • Microplastics are particles of anthropic origin measuring between 5 mm (conventional measure that separates them from mesoplastics) and 330 um;
  • Primary microplastics are those that are not formed through the decomposition of waste. They represent between 15% and 35% of the approximately 9.5 million tonnes of plastic released every year into the sea;
  • 35/40% of primary microplastics result from the use and washing of synthetic fabrics and padding.

What are the problems related to microplastics?

To fully understand the extent of the problem, some quotes from studies and research by international organisations are quite eloquent:

  • Microplastics pose a huge problem of undisputed pollution for water, marine and continental ecosystems (Eriksen et al., 2013; Castañeda, 2014; Ivar do Sul & Costa, 2014);
  • Pollution from microplastics in oceans is among the six emerging environmental concerns. Once in the sea, they are ingested by the fauna together with the accumulated toxic substances. The risk that is being run is an imbalance in the food chain (2016 Frontiers Report, issued by the UNEP);
  • plastic whale“On average, 83% of the samples were contaminated. We have enough data to check the impact that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned. If it’s impacting wildlife, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?” Sherri Mason, microplastic expert Orb Media non-profit organisation – Washington / State University of New York published in The Guardian;
  • The presence and accumulation of microplastics in the sea is a considerable problem, both for the impact on the ecosystem and on biodiversity because microplastics are ingested by marine biota thus entering the food chain. Ingestion of microplastics provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers and plastic-additives to organisms with uncertain consequences for health (Life+ project MERMAIDS “Mitigation of microplastics impact caused by textile washing processes” – project reference LIFE13 ENV/IT/001069);
  • We have reached a level of pollution from plastics that makes it almost impossible, at least in the short-term, to find a real solution to the problem, although we can do our best at least to fight it (IUCN study – Primary Microplastics in the Oceans);
  • Synthetic clothing releases half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year (equivalent to around 50 billion plastic bottles), Ellen MacArthur Foundation study (A New Textiles Economy”).

What are the damages on man besides the already evident ones on the ecosystem?

Primary microplastics from synthetic textile fibres, released through the washing of synthetic fabrics and padding, are not trapped by water treatment plants because of their tiny size and accumulate in water basins.

The problems related to them are essentially linked to:

  • Health of fish that feed on microplastics. Countless international studies have confirmed that all sea inhabitants (ranging from molluscs and fish to mammals) ingest microplastics from synthetic fibres and “feed” on them.
  • Passage along the food chain. We can speak of absolute certainty rather than risk for man. The accumulation and ingestion, whether direct or indirect (feeding on animals that have ingested microplastics), may lead to two types of impact:
    • Physical (e.g. injury to the organs where accumulation occurs)
    • Chemical (transfer and accumulation of polluting substances). The type of substances and pollutants in plastics are the subject of a huge and extensive bibliographical field which may be referred to (e.g. Bisphenol/Phthalates/Nonylphenol/PBDE/Polychlorinated biphenyl/Aromatic hydrocarbons/Pesticide residues)

Microplastics from Synthetic Fibres and Padding PDF

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