Shoppers’ awareness of microplastics is increasing. Patrons are refusing to buy hand sanitizer with microbeads and eco-friendly textiles are becoming an expectation. Microplastics are invasive, though research on them is still scarce.
There are still myriad questions about the causes of microplastics that humanity hasn’t uncovered yet. Still, new studies show how synthetic materials on a gentle wash cycle could be a start in reducing personal microplastic contributions.
How Washing Machines Release Microplastics
The wash, rinse and repeat of a default wash cycle is aggressive. Though humans can’t see the damage with the naked eye, tiny clothing defects are born from every wash, making it one of microplastics’ most innocent yet permeable causes.
These cycles agitate clothes over time, releasing the microplastics embedded within synthetic fabrics. Over 3.5 quadrillion microfibers from laundry machines pollute oceans yearly from microfiber shedding — the same weight as 10 blue whales.
Switching to a gentler wash cycle will be less intense on the clothes, causing their breakdown much slower. Professionals noted temperature didn’t make much difference when reducing microplastic discharge.
Once the water drains into public water systems, water treatment plants must deal with the residual microplastics. Unfortunately, water treatment is still attempting to discover the most effective way to remove microplastics. Ineffective water treatment technology is prompting countless studies on microplastics, including the revolutionary research in California’s drinking water, pressuring plants to develop ways to analyze microplastic density.
The trickle-down effect of washing clothes on gentler cycles extends beyond reducing microplastic expulsion. These cycles use less energy and water, considering water scarcity and excess energy expenditure.
Additionally, clothes last longer, meaning fewer items end up in landfills contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Fewer humans and animals receive adverse health effects from microplastics, conserving resources from health organizations for more critical cases — these are only several examples of the environmental benefits of a simple washing machine.
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How the Study Revolutionizes Laundry Machines
The primary study discovered gentle cycles reduce microplastic release by 70%, prompting manufacturers to create solutions. Cycle intensity was the most notable influence against other testing variables, such as installing microfiber lint filters and country of machine origin.
In collaboration with Patagonia, Samsung is a leader in this technological advancement by creating a machine with microfiber filtration. It’s energy-efficient using cold water, but its main selling point is it can reduce pollutant release by 54%.
Crafting a more responsible machine is only part of the fight against the lingering tons of microplastics at the bottom of the ocean. Though filters are an inexpensive yet effective solution, no country has compliances to force makers to include these assets.
New technologies could filter out microplastics during washing. However, sustainable solutions require a macro lens, finding ways to reduce the problem at its source.
Because laundry machines are getting a makeover, it alerts clothing manufacturers on how to reimagine their products. The slow fashion revolution involves more than calling out brands for excess waste. Still, it also holds them accountable for creating products that don’t disrupt ocean life, no matter where they are.
How to Reduce Microplastic Pollution
Everyone from marine biologists to health professionals is seeing the impacts of microplastics more over time.
Microplastics are in breast milk and within zooplankton, stunting the development of aquatic life and humans. The plastic hits the bottom of the ocean while collecting as much as 85% of human-made materials on shorelines. Though there are more sources for microplastic spread than washing machines, these findings accentuate how critical it is to find as many solutions as possible.
Everyone — from corporations to individuals — can take steps to reduce microplastic pollution. It also helps to know the other causes of microplastics when raising awareness:
- Food containers
- Plastic pellets
- Car parts
- Urban dust
- Fishing nets
- Single-use plastics
They release into waterways and soil, impacting crop growth and habitat resilience. Every species consumes these microplastics, whether through drinking water or packed lunches.
The pervasive nature requires customer skepticism and governmental oversight to reduce its harmful impact. Eco-labeling is another small yet impactful way to encourage consumer and corporate awareness by recognizing product variances. It forces companies to earn the sticker and notifies customers about how to inform purchasing decisions.
Regulating microplastics to reduce pollution is another beast. The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. tests 30 samples every five years, but environmentalists and public health officials question how helpful this is with such a widespread issue.
Shouldn’t the testing be more frequent to accelerate product manufacturing and plastic disposal standardization?
Gentle Cycles Are Gentler on the Planet
While manufacturers strive to make better machinery, households can participate in positive change by spreading awareness and washing more thoughtfully. It makes families more aware of energy use and the silent ways humanity unintentionally harms the planet.
Though cleaning clothes is only one part of the solution, the oceans and the Earth need all the help they can get.