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The invisible threat: microplastics from your clothes

The invisible threat: microplastics from your clothes

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters in size. These particles end up in the environment and accumulate there. They are not degradable, but disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces. And they are impossible to clean up. Microplastics - and the even smaller nanoplastic - are found in the oceans and rivers, in the air and in the soil, and end up in our food

Plastic pollution is a hype word these days, the latest environmental trend. When we think of plastic pollution, we think of pictures of animals suffering the consequences of our convenient plastic life: turtles with plastic straws in their noses, seals entangled in fishing nets, or whales with pounds of plastic bags in their stomachs.

But have you heard of microplastics? The almost invisible threat lurking in our food, drink and air. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that can enter the environment as such or come from the breakdown of larger plastics Large plastic items such as bottles or bags shatter over time into smaller plastic particles due to environmental factors. Other microplastics enter the environment because they are intentionally added to cosmetics or paint products by their manufacturers. However, the two main sources of microplastics are tires - made of synthetic rubber, which releases plastic particles with friction - and clothing and textiles. The latter is today's topic. Why? Because microplastics, or microfibers, from clothing are more dangerous than what we previously thought.

SYNTHETIC CLOTHING POLLUTES THE EARTH

Microplastics from textiles are called microfibers because of their shape. Perhaps you have never checked the label of your clothing. If you do, you will find words like "polyester," "nylon," "polyamide," "acrylic. These are examples of plastic materials that are very often used in clothing. 

When these textiles are manufactured, washed with your laundry, worn or dried, they release these tiny plastic fibers into the water and air . These microfibers can be found in almost everything we eat and drink: fish, seafood, chicken, tap water, bottled water, salt, beer. They have entered deep into our food chain , of which we are at the top, so the risk to us is even greater.

No location on earth is safe from these fibers either; because they become airborne, they can travel miles before settling, scientists have proven. From the top of the world to the deepest point of the ocean, neither Mount Everest nor the Mariana Trench is free of microplastic pollution. Research has shown that even major cities like London, Paris and Dongguan collect microfibers from textiles. Even in pristine areas like the Pyrenees or American national parks, plastic rain is falling. An almost invisible threat that has finally found its way to us.

FIRST SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE THAT MICROFIBERS AFFECT OUR LUNGS

Plastic microfibers are not only found in the outdoors ; they can also be found in buildings and especially in the dust on the floor. Of all the suspended dust in a household, 33% is textile microplastics. This is sufficient cause for concern, as these fibers may deposit on the food we eat, creating a new source of microplastics ingestion. Research has shown that the ingestion of household fibers per person per year can be between 14,000 and 68,000 particles .

Not only that, microplastics were already found in lung tissue 30 years ago . Textile workers processing polyester and nylon fibers, among others, experienced coughing, shortness of breath and reduced lung capacity .  

What makes this issue even more worrisome and requires immediate action from governments and the textile industry is the latest research conducted by the University of Groningen in February 2021. Clothing fibers such as nylon and polyester can hinder the recovery and development . of our lungs . Research in the United States has also shown for the first time that the smallest plastic particles in pregnant rats can end up elsewhere in the body . They were found not only in the lungs and heart of the pregnant rat, but also in the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys and brain of the fetus.

According to the researchers, this may also be happening in humans.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE?

As consumers, we often feel hopeless when we hear about problems on such a global scale. Replacing your plastic bottle with a reusable one won't do this time. Make sure you regularly ventilate and vacuum your home to ensure that plastic fibers are captured. 

When buying clothing or textiles for your home, choose as many sustainably produced natural materials as possible. Try to stay away from fast fashion, as this model only encourages overconsumption of clothing, especially synthetic clothing such as polyester.

Or ask your favorite fashion brand to take responsibility for the clothes they put on the market. They should guarantee that their products do not endanger our environment, ourselves and especially the next generations.

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