Since the commercialisation of synthetic fibres in the late 40s, an estimated 5.6 million tons of synthetic microfibres have ended up in the environment. To the detriment of our planet and of our health.
Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have estimated that 2.9 tonnes of microfibres have ended up in our rivers and seas – the equivalent of seven billion fleece jackets.
So how does it all work? When a plastic-based fabric, such as fleece, is washed, it lets out particles that are thinner than human hair and therefore difficult for filters to catch. Usually invisible to the naked eye, these microfibres are not biodegradable and are said to contribute to 35% of oceans’ plastic pollution.
The issue is all the more difficult to tackle because of how extensively we rely on synthetic fabrics. 60% of the world’s clothes are made out of synthetic materials, which are chosen by the fashion industry because of their durability and affordability.
A danger for our health
It is not only a question of protecting the environment. Scientists believe that the pervasive presence of synthetic microfibres in the environment is dangerous for our health.
The presence of synthetic microfibres has been detected in raindrops and in the air, but also in fish, chicken, beer, and in the water we drink. Researchers have suggested that high-levels of synthetic micro-particles in the lungs may cause similar damage to lung tissues as asbestos and fine dust. However, there is not currently enough research on the topic for clear answers.
For more information on the subject, you can visit Ocean Clean Wash, an initiative run by Plastic Soup Foundation to raise awareness about the impact of synthetic microfibres on our health and on the environment.