By Anonymous Writer

Plastic Soup?

  • 06 October 2017
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Do you realise that you are probably eating and drinking microplastics when you have a beer, some honey on your toast or a drink of water? We are all aware of the dangers to marine life caused by plastic bags and bottles but there is a greater danger to the environment posed by the  microscopic fibres that  are flushed into our water systems by washing nylon, spandex, acrylic and polyester fabrics.  83% of tap water tested in a dozen countries was found to be contaminated by microplastics. Too small to be seen or filtered by standard methods, they are accumulating in the food chain.



The Womens Institute is campaigning to raise awareness of the the issue and asking government to research and develop innovative solutions to the problem. A typical acrylic scarf will release 300,000 fibres each wash, while a fleece will produce over 2 million fibres, depending upon its composition and how it is washed. Fibres come from the unlikeliest objects, including fluffy toys and scourers. They act as sponges, absorbing toxins in the waterways and oceans and then they bioaccumulate in the food chain, concentrating those toxins in the larger mammals as well as in the environment (recent research found that the majority of sea-salt was contaminated by microfibres). 


There are two principle concerns: penetration by very small particles in plant and animal cells, and the bacteria that microplastics attract. There is currently a lack of research into how much of these particles and toxins end up in the human diet and what impact they will have on health and on the environment.


While most microfibres come from petrochemical sources, some are made from biodegradable cellulose. The WI wants clearer labelling so that consumers can make an informed choice, and also to put pressure on washing-machine manufacturers to develop effective filters to stop the fibres being washed into the environment. 


What can we do to help?

  • wash clothes less often – only when they need it, not after each wear
  • fill washing machines to the max – a full load results in less friction, releasing fewer fibres
  • use washing liquid rather than powder – the grains scrub more fibres loose than liquid
  • wash at a lower temperature – this reduces the amount of fibres released 
  • buy natural rather than man-made fabrics for clothes and bedding
  • avoid single use plastic bottles
  • use biodegradable materials wherever possible
  • challenge shops and manufacturers to use less plastic


Remember We cannot throw plastic away – there is no away!

Plastic Oceans



See The Story of Stuff Project video

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