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Microplastics, one of the biggest water pollutants, are back in the news, particularly when a viral video shows microfibers from our clothes kill aquatic life that end up on our plates. Tiny pieces of plastics escape from the water purification filters and find themselves into oceans and rivers. Because Microplastics stay in the water once and for all, they are extremely harmful and deadly to fishes and aquatic life, in general, when they end up consuming them.
A good example of it are microbeads, nothing but the teeny plastic beads found in toothpastes and face washes. Most countries have imposed ban on these beads considering their harmful nature. However microplastics and microbeads are only few among many that pollute the water resources and destroy marine life. There are microfibers, which we unknowingly, have been dumping into the water resources for several years. Microfibres come off of synthetic cloth fabrics when put in the washing machine and get discharged with the water. It is reported that most microplastics affecting aquatic life in freshwater were, in reality, microfibers and not microbeads. In fact 95% of microplastics found in the River Ottawa were microfibers, mostly from synthetic clothing, with around 5% of the plastic made up of microbeads.
How do microfibers enter the water?
The question that pops up is how these microfibers enter into the water systems. Yoga pants, clothes made of fleece, athletic & sports wears and synthetic material let out hundreds of thousands of microfibers every time you give them a wash in the washing machine. For example, your fleece jacket can release up to 2gm of microfibers per wash and that’s some 2, 50,000 fibres! Waste water treatment can effectively remove microfibres. However about 40% of them are discharged into lakes and rivers, which then mix with the oceans.
When fish consumes the plastic fibres, the plastic gets stuffed inside the stomach. Though the fish feels full, it doesn’t have any idea that what it actually takes in has plastics, and in time starves to death. Microplastics can adversely impact the fish at a cellular level leading to cell damage and inflammation. The fibres when they mix with other harmful pollutants make the fish unpalatable and inedible. A reliable study indicates that Europeans consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic a year. Now that’s a staggering number, particularly when you find that very little research if nothing at all has been carried out in this area.
Recommended solutions include buying fewer synthetic materials and washing less of them. Alternatively, the world has to go ‘organic’ and choose organic clothing over others. This can reduce the amount of fibres coming off the synthetic material types. Consumers too, these days, are looking up to organic fashion and eco-friendly materials to reduce the impact of microfibers on water resources and aquatic life. Time to go organic? We strongly feel so.