British researchers have found that up to 30% of ocean pollution can be prevented by changing the way we wash our clothes.
Researchers from Northumbria University found that changing to cooler temperature washes could potentially prevent more than 4,200 pounds of microfibers in clothing from being released into marine ecosystems in Europe.
Microfiber is a synthetic material made from petroleum-based ultrafine synthetic yarns like polyester or nylon. Microfibers can be found in clothing and other products.
A single article of clothing can shed around 1,900 fibers in every wash. Those fibers eventually make their way into our water systems.
Researchers have found that washing clothes at 59 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes instead of the average 85-minute, 104 degrees cycle could reduce the amount of microfiber that enters waterways by 30%.
“This is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fiber release. We were surprised not only by the sheer quantity of fibers coming from these domestic wash loads, but also to see that the composition of microfibers coming out of the washing machine does not match the composition of clothing going into the machine, due to the way fabrics are constructed,” said John R. Dean, lead author of the study. “Finding an ultimate solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibers released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design.”
The researchers also found that new clothes released more microfibers than older clothing. Larger wash loads were found to decrease the amount of microfibers released into waterways.