Microplastic pollution: the problem and the solution

Microplastic pollution: the problem and the solution

Every time you wash your synthetic clothing, they shed tiny plastic particles called microplastics. We explain what they are and what solutions there are to microplastic pollution.

Author: Lea Wieser

Did you know that your synthetic clothing - think your favourite pair of leggings or your sports bra - sheds small plastic pieces called microplastic every time you wash it? What might sound like no big deal is a huge problem: these microplastic particles end up in our waterways where they accumulate. They are then eaten by fish and other marine life before they eventually make their way up the food chain, ending up on our plates, harming us and the environment. 


First things first, what are microplastics?


As the name suggests, microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are less than five millimetres in length (or about the size of a sesame seed). There are two types of microplastics: primary and secondary ones. Primary microplastics are the particles that are shed from synthetic clothing or other textiles like fishing nets or even from cosmetics while secondary microplastics are the result of larger plastic items such as water bottles decomposing. 


How much microplastic is out there?


In the last 100 years, the global production of plastics has reached 320 million metric tonnes (MT) per year - and almost half of it is turned into single-use packaging, leading to an enormous amount of plastic waste. One study has estimated that between 5-12 MT of plastic could have entered the ocean - in just one year! And over time, this plastic waste will turn into microplastics: back in 2014, scientists estimated that a total of 15-51 trillion particles have accumulated in the ocean so far - wreaking havoc on the environment.


Why is microplastic pollution so bad?

The issue with microplastic particles is that, like with any type of plastic, that they do not fully degrade - ever. Well, at least not in our lifetimes. It takes hundreds, even thousands of years for plastics to decompose and in the meantime, they destroy entire ecosystems.

 

And microplastic is everywhere - from the Arctic to the Alps to the deepest bottom of our oceans. Researchers have detected plastics in the digestive tracts of fish and other marine organisms causing gastrointestinal infections, reproductive issues, and starvation. Even our bodies are full of it: a recent study has found evidence of microplastics in the human placenta. And the worst thing is that we don’t fully understand the consequences of consumed microplastics on human health yet but scientists agree that it’s highly likely that we will only ‘find out the safe levels after we have exceeded them.’ 

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Hang on, so what can we do in the fight against microplastics?

RULE NUMBER 1.
Swap out synthetic fibers with clothing made from natural fibers. 

 Think of it that way: synthetic clothing is made of polyester, nylon/polyamide, acrylic, spandex, or lycra which are essentially different types of plastics. So, where possible opt for clothing and textiles made from a natural, biodegradable material like linen, organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or wool to avoid microplastics shedding in the first place. And keep in mind that even recycled polyester, that’s often considered as the more environmentally-friendly option, sheds microfibers when washed and worn! 

 

RULE NUMBER 2.
Filter out your microplastics and invest in a GUPPYFRIEND™ washing bag


Let’s be realistic: we all have clothes made from synthetic fibers in our wardrobes - from your gym clothing to your swimwear and your hiking gear, these are all made of plastic. So instead of falling into despair, invest in a GUPPYFRIEND™ washing bag. Created by a group of surfers and nature lovers, this patented solution to microplastic pollution filters out microfibers released from synthetic materials during washing. The self-cleaning washing bag collects polyester fibers, ultimately hindering them from making their way into our waterways. 

GUPPYFRIEND washbag

RULE NUMBER 3.
Cut back on plastic wherever you can.


Here are some simple examples: 

  • Swap out your single-use plastics - from water bottles and coffee cups to shopping bags and toothbrushes - with reusable ones made from biodegradable or recyclable materials like glass, wood, or biopolymers.
  • Stop using cling film and invest in reusable food containers.
  • Find your local refill store, bring your containers, and stock up on food and household products.
  • Look for microplastic-free cosmetics and cleaning products: read the labels and avoid all products containing any of these plastics: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), or nylon. 

 

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