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Lillian Steenblik Hwang – Blog & Journalism Portfolio

A potential source of microplastic pollution: Laundry?


image credit – Danc86

While doing research for another blog post (about laundry chemistry) I came across a press release on Labspaces.

Apparently scientists have found that washing machine waste-water could be a major source for microplastic pollution, according to research described in their paper, “Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Woldwide: Sources and Sinks”. In particular, tiny pieces of acrylic and polyester shred from clothing during wash cycles. The paper was published in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology on the web September 6 of this year.

This research suggests new ways that microplastics might form and travel to global waters.

Mark Browne and his colleagues defined microplastics as plastics smaller than 1 millimeter (or 1/32 inch). The scientists found polyester, acrylic, polyproplylene, polyethylene and polyamide fibers at 18 different sites around the world. Large amounts of microplastics could be seen near highly populated areas.

The researchers compared microplastics found in water released from sewage treatment plants with microplastic found on shores, to confirm that wastewater from washing machines could be a source of microplastic fibers. They also washed polyester blankets, fleeces, and shirts to see how many fibers were shed per garment. All the garments washed released more thatn 100 microplastic fibers/liter of water. Some garments shed up to 1900 fibers in one wash.

The researchers warn that as the global population grows, larger amounts of sewage will be created. In order to prevent more microplastics from being released through washing machine wast-water, they suggest that future washing machines could be designed to filter out these fibers. Sewage treatment plants with ultrafiltration systems could also prevent these fibers from reaching water habitats.

The researchers emphasized that more work needs to be done to  further our understanding of how microplastics get into water habitats. Hopefully, this kind research will eventually lead to new ways to stop microplastics from contaminating the oceans, streams and other waters.

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