A few years ago, there was a lot of discussion about plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Several petitions were presented to different governments around the world. As a result, a number of countries have banned the manufacture and import of any personal care products (toothpastes, exfoliants, cleansers, etc.) containing microbeads. On June 2, 2017, a new regulation was added to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and plastic microbeads are now banned in Canada. It’s a step in the right direction, but did you know that microbeads in cosmetics are the source of only 2% of all primary microplastics found in the ocean !! … not to mention the secondary microplastics.
This whole story of microbeads has nonetheless served to contribute to an important debate on mircoplastics. This is just the beginning of a long epic that leads us to become aware of the greatest environmental threat we never talk about.
It’s a complex subject that requires first and foremost a good explanation 🙂
Let’s start from the beginning …A microplastic (will be refered as MP) can be defined as a small piece of plastic less than 5mm and a nanoplastic is a particle smaller than 0.1 micrometer.
Marine microplastic pollutionThere are two categories: 1.Primary microplastics are pieces of plastic that are already small when they contaminate the ocean. *Sources:
- Synthetic Textiles: abrasion during laundry (35%)
- Tyres: abrasion while driving (not counting natural rubber tires) (28%)
- City Dust: weathering, abrasion and pouring (24%)
- Road Markings: weathering and abrasion by vehicles (7%)
- Marine Coatings: weathering and incidents during application, maintenance and disposal (3.7%)
- Personal Care Products (microbeads): pouring during product use (2%)
- Plastic Pellets: incidents during manufacturing, transport and recycling (0.3%)
- All plastic waste found in the ocean (bottles, bags, straws, fishing nets, etc., etc., etc.) that break into smaller and smaller pieces over time.
Terrestrial microplastic pollutionAs a bonus, it’s not only the water that’s contaminated. In February 2018, a German research based on several studies suggests that terrestrial MP pollution is 4 to 23 times (depending on the environment) higher than marine MP pollution !! Although there are not many studies on this subject, it is inevitable that soils are also contaminated. One of the main sources could be the sludge from wastewater treatment plants that’s spread (as fertilizer) on agricultural fields. A problem directly related to the washing of synthetic fibers garments. It’s a safe bet that there are also a lot of secondary MPs that come from the degradation of bigger plastic waste on land. After all, how many millions of tons of plastics are currently in landfills ?
Here’s the problem :It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to separate these particles from the environment. MPs tend to accumulate toxic agents (heavy metals, PCBs, DDT) We find MPs in our food: sea salt, honey, sugar, beer, bottled water, etc. There are MPs in animals: fish, birds, whales, turtles. This pollution is spread all over the world, even in the most remote places. Microplastics can degrade into nanoplastics. In 2018, MPs were discovered in human stool for the first time. I’m starting to believe there are MPs in you and me right now … Above all, we don’t know the long-term impact of this contamination. For example, nanoplastics could spread in our blood system … but again, we do not know.
Solutions … ?There are still no concrete solutions to this pollution. A robot that filters MPs in the ocean project is in the early stages of development and there may be other, yet unknown, solutions starting up. But it is possible for all to take action to prevent microplastic from spreading in the environment :
1. Single use plasticsSince secondary MPs represent the greatest threat (potentially 80% of all MPs), it is important to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics (which accounts for 40% of secondary PMs, thus potentially 32% of all microplastic pollution):
- Bring your reusable bags to the grocery store
- Invest in a glass or metal water bottle (thermos)
- Avoid overpacking
- Zero Waste (Bulk) Grocery
- Regularly inquire about the types of plastics that are recycled in your area and avoid those that are not
- Avoid straws and plastic utensils
- Etc., etc., etc.
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2. Synthetic fiber textilesIt is especially this subject which is of interest for us. After all, we are a company that makes clothes. Primary MPs caused by the washing of synthetic fiber garments could account for only 7% of total MPs (35% of primary MPs. Primary MPs are about 20% of all MPs). Even so, that’s 665,000 tonnes / year of tiny fibers coming off our clothes. And this proportion will certainly be higher when there will be more studies on terrestrial MPs. Since the very first study on MPs in 2011 by Mark Anthony Browne and his team, there has always been talks of synthetic fibers from textiles. They even tested cloths washing to determine that only one synthetic fiber garment could release more than 1900 microplastic fibers each wash. Solution: obviously, avoid synthetic fibers (nylon, polyester, acrylic) and favor clothing made with natural biodegradable fibers (organic cotton, hemp, linen, viscose from bamboo, lyocell (tencel) eucalyptus). Knowing that synthetic fibers occupy 60% of the market today, it is not realistic to say that everyone can completely avoid them. Here are some solutions to reduce the contamination of micoplastic fibers during your washing:
3.Filtrol 160 (https://www.septicsafe.com/washing-machine-filter) connects to the water outlet of the washer. It filters synthetic fibers to prevent microplastic pollution and septic tank problems. No information on the country of origin, but it seems to me it is manufacture in the United States.Buy online at Wexco Environmental Maybe one day I’ll try that. It seems to me that it would be a nice tool to test the effectiveness of the Cora Ball and the GUPPYFRIEND bag.
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