After you add it, the overall amount of synthetic microfibers in our clothes is a wonderful number.
U.S. scientists estimate it to be 5.6 million tons since we first started wearing these polyester and nylon garments in the 1950s.
About 2.9 million tons – more than half of this mass probably ended up in our rivers and oceans.
That’s the equivalent of a seven billion wool jacket, researchers say.
But when we express concern about water pollution and just so, this increasingly synthetic “fluff” issue affects the land.
The team at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calculated that emissions from the Earth’s atmosphere had now gone into reservoirs – about 1,166,500 tons per year versus 1,167,000 tons.
- High plastic concentrations are found on the seabed
- Microplastics are ‘littering’ the river
Because? The wastewater treatment works have gone very well by catching the lost fibers from the washing machine. What is happening is that those captured fibers, including biosolid sludge, are then applied to the cropland or simply buried in the ground.
“I’ve heard people say that the problem of synthetic microfibers from washing clothes will take care of itself because wastewater treatment works have become more widespread and more efficient around the world. But what we’re doing is just moving the problem from one environmental bogie to another,” UCSB Roland Gear of the School of Environmental Science and Management told BBC News.
Industrial ecologists, working with other specialists, have previously calculated the total amount of virgin plastics produced (6.3 billion tons); And the annual flow of plastics into the oceans (about eight million tons per year).
These types of calculations are seamlessly complex, involving models and necessarily using a number of assumptions to plug real-world data gaps.
They may not be perfect in their description of these, but at the very least they provide images of some ball-parks on which serious conversations can be made around mitigation.
About 14% of all plastics are mainly used to make synthetic fibers for clothing. When these garments are washed they will spread small strands that are much thinner than human hair.
For a recently published report in the PLoS Journal, the UCSB team tried to work out how much synthetic clothing was produced over the past 5 years or more; How it has been used; And how it has been cleaned.
Consider the complexity of such an assessment. For example, consider how many people around the world have access to washing machines and how many still wash their hands; And how many front-loaders and how many top-loaders are in these washing machines.
Different methods (and detergents) will flow different amounts of fiber. We also know that the rotating paddles in top-loaders apply a lot of mechanical pressure to the garments and are therefore considered to be large shades of microfibers.
And think for a moment how many of the clothes in a person’s wardrobes are actually worn regularly (and therefore cleaned), and how many stay on the shelf and rarely get output? That favorite old sheep almost certainly sees a lot more action than an office jacket and tie. It is thought that a quarter or more of a person’s clothing is probably not being worn very, very often.
When the UCSB team conducted a flow analysis of all these variables, the number that emerged for the total mass of synthetic microfibers emitted from laundry between 1950 and 2016 was .6. million million tons.
Half of this amount, however, was released in the last decade. It is part of our collection of ballooning clothes.
In 1990, researchers say, the global average per capita stock of clothing was 8 kg. By 2016 it was 26 kg per head.
As mentioned above, growing shed fibers are ending up in the ground setting, and improving the infrastructural use of modern wastewater treatment will only exacerbate this trend.
“Large-scale removal of microfibers from the environment is less likely to be technically feasible or economically viable, so focus on emissions prevention,” said Jenna Gavigan, a brain school colleague and lead author of the PLOS article. .
“Since wastewater treatment plants do not necessarily reduce emissions into the environment, our focus should be on reducing emissions before entering the water stream.”
This means a suite of solutions, commented Jamie Woodward from the Department of Geography at the University of Manchester, whose group first showed that rivers in the UK can be highly polluted with microplastics.
These solutions include reduced use, more efficient filter engineering in washing machines and improved wastewater treatment.
“Microfibers have created a special challenge as they have escaped from their trillions of wastewater treatment plants – even with improved treatment.”
“We know that microplastics have been in the environment for decades, but we still don’t know what the environmentally acceptable level of microplastic pollution in an environment can look like. This underscores the importance of research to better understand its environmental impact.” “Microplastic pollution is a fact of modern life – it’s here and we’re just beginning to appreciate the consequences.”
And the professor added: “Wool and cotton have been present in significant concentrations in our rivers and oceans since our revolution. The durability of synthetic fibers means they will last longer in the natural environment and may be recyclable from sludge treatment soils in rivers and oceans.”
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