Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics

Image 1A new and more alarming source of marine contamination has been recently identified in micro and nanosized plastic fragments. Microplastics are difficult to see with the naked eye and to biodegrade in marine environment, representing a problem since they can be ingested by plankton or other marine organisms, potentially entering the food web. An important source of microplastics appears to be through sewage contaminated by synthetic fibres from washing clothes. Since this phenomenon still lacks of a comprehensive analysis, the objective of this contribution was to investigate the role of washing processes of synthetic textiles on microplastic release. In particular, an analytical protocol was set up, based on the filtration of the washing water of synthetic fabrics and on the analysis of the filters by scanning electron microscopy. The quantification of the microfibre shedding from three different synthetic fabric types, woven polyester, knitted polyester, and woven polypropylene, during washing trials simulating domestic conditions, was achieved and statistically analysed. The highest release of microplastics was recorded for the wash of woven polyester and this phenomenon was correlated to the fabric characteristics. Moreover, the extent of microfibre release from woven polyester fabrics due to different detergents, washing parameters and industrial washes was evaluated. The number of microfibres released from a typical 5 kg wash load of polyester fabrics was estimated to be over 6,000,000 depending on the type of detergent used. The usage of a softener during washes reduces the number of microfibres released of more than 35%. The amount and size of the released microfibres confirm that they could not be totally retained by wastewater treatments plants, and potentially affect the aquatic environment.

Francesca De Falco, Maria Pia Gullo, Gennaro Gentile and al., Environmental Pollution, Available online 27 October 2017, In Press

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Dirty laundry : Are your clothes polluting the ocean?

In an indoor “Manchester-drizzle-simulating” rain room at the University of Leeds, and in a laundry lab in Plymouth, research is revealing the unexpected environmental cost of the very clothes on our backs. (…)

And in a recent lab study, they found that polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibres each time it was washed- sending another source of plastic pollution down the drain and, eventually, into the ocean. (…) (bbc.com, 6/07/2017)

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Release of polyester and cotton fibers from textiles in machine washings

Microplastics are widely spread in the environment, which along with still increasing production have aroused concern of their impacts on environmental health. The objective of this study is to quantify the number and mass of two most common textile fibers discharged from sequential machine washings to sewers. The number and mass of microfibers released from polyester and cotton textiles in the first wash varied in the range 2.1 × 105 to 1.3 × 107 and 0.12 to 0.33% w/w, respectively. Amounts of released microfibers showed a decreasing trend in sequential washes. The annual emission of polyester and cotton microfibers from household washing machines was estimated to be 154,000 (1.0 × 1014) and 411,000 kg (4.9 × 1014) in Finland (population 5.5 × 106). Due to the high emission values and sorption capacities, the polyester and cotton microfibers may play an important role in the transport and fate of chemical pollutants in the aquatic environment.

Markus SillanpääPirjo Sainio, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, pp 1–9, July, 01, 2017

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Microplastics shedding from polyester fabrics

To minimize microplastics from polyester fabrics getting in the ocean, and posing a threat to the marine environment, the production design of polyester fabrics needs to change. Mistra Future Fashion now release new findings where their researchers and industry partners have investigated the relation between fabric properties and shedding for polyester fabrics, and thereby contribute to fill current research gap. (…) (Mistra Future Fashion, 15/06/2017)

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Synthetic Textiles as a Source of Microplastics from Households: A Mechanistic Study to Understand Microfiber Release During Washing

Microplastic fibers make up a large proportion of microplastics found in the environment, especially in urban areas. There is good reason to consider synthetic textiles a major source of microplastic fibers and it will not diminish since the use of synthetic fabrics, especially polyester, continues to increase. In this study we provide quantitative data regarding the size and mass of microplastic fibers released from synthetic (polyester) textiles during simulated home washing under controlled laboratory conditions. Consideration of fabric structure, washing conditions (use of detergents, temperature, wash duration, sequential washings) allowed us to study the propensity of fiber shedding in a mechanistic way. Thousands of individual fibers were measured (number, length) from each wash solution to provide a robust data set on which to draw conclusions. Among all the variables tested, the use of detergent appeared to affect the total mass of fibers released the most, yet the detergent composition (liquid or powder) or overdosing of detergent did not significantly influence microplastic release. Despite different release quantities due to the addition of a surfactant (approximately 0.025 and 0.1 mg fibers/g textile washed, without and with detergent, respectively), the overall microplastic fiber length profile remained similar regardless of wash condition or fabric structure, with the vast majority of fibers ranging between 100 m and 800 m in length irrespective of wash cycle number. This indicates that the fiber staple length and/or debris encapsulated inside the fabric from the yarn spinning could be directly responsible for releasing stray fibers. This study serves as a first look towards understanding the physical properties of the textile itself to better understand the mechanisms of fiber shedding in the context of microplastic fiber release into laundry wash water.

Edgar Hernandez, Bernd Nowack, Denise M. Mitrano, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (12), pp 7036–7046

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Textile microplastics: causes and cures – improving our understanding of the drivers of fibre loss during washing (PhD Project)

Freshwater’s macro microplastic problem

Like in the oceans, the bulk of the pollution in rivers and lakes is not in the form of plastic bottles and other large pieces, but tiny pieces called microplastics that would be hard to spot. “Three quarters of what we take out of the Great Lakes are less than a millimeter in size,” she says. “It’s basically the size of a period of a sentence.” These plastics are concerning to scientists because they are being ingested by a variety of aquatic organisms. (…) (pbs.org, 11/05/2017)

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