This post was written by Jacob Larkin, marketing coordinator at Lanes Group

As the world becomes increasingly aware of ocean pollution, it’s important to consider all sources that may affect our waterways. A major area of marine plastic pollution is microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic that come from a variety of sources. One significant, but often overlooked, source of microplastics is laundry. When we wash clothes made of synthetic materials, small pieces of plastic are released into the water supply, eventually making their way into the ocean.

While research is still ongoing, studies have revealed the possible effects that microplastics can have on marine life, and subsequently, humans who consume fish and seafood. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the role they play in this problem, as there are simple steps that many of us can take to reduce our contribution to this growing issue. By making some small changes in our laundry habits, we can help protect our oceans and the creatures who call them home. Plus, it’s vital that organisations are held accountable for their contribution to this problem, ensuring they take steps to reduce it.

In the following guide, we explore the effects that washing clothes made of synthetic fibres can have on the environment, and what can be done to minimise this impact.

How does ocean pollution from laundry microplastics affect marine life and the environment?

Ocean pollution from microplastics is a growing threat to marine wildlife and delicate ecosystems. These particles can work their way up the food chain when they are ingested by fish and other aquatic life. Studies show that bacteria and human pathogens thrive on these plastic shards, which could have worrying possible consequences. The effects that this may have on wildlife are also becoming a clearer problem. The polluted waters that surround us carry serious risks for not just our seas’ inhabitants, but also for humans consuming contaminated seafood or using affected waterways for recreation.

How impactful is laundry on microplastic pollution?

Laundry has been identified as a major source of microplastic pollution. While the majority of these particles are microscopic, their collective impact is huge: it has been estimated that about nine million microplastic shards enter water treatment plants. While plants are generally effective at filtering plastics, it raises concerns about how much plastic ends up in our waterways when water is not being treated. Furthermore, research from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has found that nearly 35% of all global releases of primary microplastics into the world’s oceans come from synthetic textiles, making this the number one source of microplastic pollution.

The cumulative volume and impact of these tiny synthetic particles are alarming, as there is currently no way to remove them from our waterways and oceans. It’s clear that more work needs to be done in order to reduce the amount of plastic pollutants introduced by laundry activities worldwide, preserving the integrity of our planet’s invaluable ecosystems.

How can you reduce your impact on microplastic pollution from laundry?

Reducing our impact on microplastic pollution can start right at home with our laundry habits. Instead of purchasing cheaply-made clothing from fast-fashion brands using plastics such as polyester, purchase higher-quality garments less frequently. By opting for natural fabrics like cotton, linen and hemp for your wardrobe, you can minimise the number of plastic fibres that are released in wash cycles. Additionally, consider doing a full load of laundry instead of multiple smaller loads in order to save energy and water – an extra bonus for reducing your pollution imprint.

Another solution is to purchase a microfibre bag to wash your clothing in. These will filter out dangerous plastic fibres and allow you to wash your clothes safely. Alternatively, you might instead choose to fit your washing machine with a microplastic filter, such as those produced by PlanetCare, which attaches to your washing machine and captures microplastics before they enter your drain.

How can organisations work to reduce microplastic pollution from laundry?

Reducing the microplastic pollution from laundry is an achievable but significant challenge facing organisations today. Lanes Group has called upon the UK government and water authorities to implement legislation that mandates better filtering and monitoring of our water systems, and for companies to take better action to minimise their contribution.

One way we can reduce microplastic pollution from laundry is for washing machine manufacturers to install microfibre filters in new machines and retroactively. The government should make this a requirement for all washing machines sold and maintained in the UK.

Another method could involve design changes for clothing items that reduce the amount of microfibres released into wash water. These initiatives must go hand in hand with educating consumers on how their laundry decisions impact the environment, and encouraging people to purchase products made from natural fibres as an alternative to synthetic fabrics that cause pollution when washed. Such campaigns can also encourage customers to follow appropriate labelling instructions.

By combining wastewater management strategies, design changes, consumer education and proactive maintenance efforts, organisations can do their part in helping protect the environment by reducing the issue of microplastic pollution from laundry.

By making small changes to the way we do laundry, we can make a big difference. Organisations also have a role to play in reducing microplastic pollution from laundry; through engagement with their customers and suppliers, they can create meaningful change.

For more information on how you can help to combat this growing problem in your own life, visit our Microplastics Out Of Our Drains (MOOD) campaign page.