Life

Is Washing Your Favorite Sweater Contributing to Plastic Pollution?

Machine washing your clothes is an unexpected culprit of microplastic pollution

Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean from coastal countries. That amount of plastic is the equivalent of about 40,000 blue whales (1)! Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length) are a big part of the plastic pollution problem (2). It's estimated that approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are currently polluting the ocean (3). These tiny particles also make up roughly 94% of the Great Pacific Trash vortex, which is the largest collection of floating trash in the world (4). And surprisingly, laundry is a significant contributor to ocean microplastics.

How is washing your clothes polluting the ocean and what can you do to stop it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microplastics and how doing your laundry may impact the planet.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are either manufactured for primary use as exfoliating beads used in skincare or small machinery parts, or can be a result of the breakdown of other materials like large plastic water bottles or synthetic textiles (2). Microfibers, the microplastics that are in synthetic materials, are a big part of the problem. They make up roughly 35% of the microplastic found in marine ecosystems (5). Machine washing synthetic materials is one of the biggest ways microfibers get into the water supply (6). Washing machines and synthetic materials are a bad combination because friction from the spinning laundry drum causes synthetic materials to shed microfibers into the water, which are eventually drained back into the pipes. Since the fibers are so small, up to 40% pass through sewage treatment plants unfiltered and end up draining into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that are connected to our water supply (7).

Even though synthetic materials are a big problem, they're almost impossible to avoid. Today, about two-thirds of textiles used in clothing are synthetic because it makes clothing cheaper to manufacture. If you check the tag on your shirt right now, you'd probably see a popular synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. A study in the UK found that nearly half a million microfibers are released in just one load of polyester clothing (8).

Environmental Impact of Microplastics

One of the biggest problems with plastic pollution is that it basically never goes away. Rather than chemically degrading, plastic tends to physically break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics continuously accumulate in the environments all over the world, from the peaks of the Pyrenees to the intestines of fish caught in the Great Lakes (9, 10). These materials are not only extremely harmful to the wildlife and ecosystems they are invading, but have potentially dangerous consequences for human health as well. Microplastics can get into drinking water, and are also often accidentally ingested by fish which pollutes our food supply. When ingested, microplastics can cause inflammation, gut blockages, growth and hormone disruption (11). Additionally, microplastics absorb other toxic chemicals and assist in their distribution.

What You Can Do

The impacts microplastics are having on marine and human health seem to grow by the day. Luckily, there are easy ways to limit microfiber shedding from your laundry!

  1. Adjust your laundry settings - avoiding delicate cycles that use high water volumes and washing with colder water are not only more water and cost efficient but help release fewer microfibers per wash!
  2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach! The soapy liquid causes more fibers to be leached out.
  3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing things bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics - anything that increases friction will increase microfiber release
  4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness.
  5. Consider getting a laundry bag. These bags are designed to catch microfibers so they cannot get into the water supply.
  6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
  2. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
  3. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368178
  6. https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/microfiber-pollution-project.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27689236
  8. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  10. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2199455-pristine-mountains-are-being-littered-with-microplastics-from-the-air/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X?via%3Dihub
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31460752
  13. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b01750
  14. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b03045
  15. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/bills-and-best-practices-for-microfiber-pollution-solutions
Home

Why You Should Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs

Better for the environment and your wallet

No one likes home maintenance and high electricity bills. Lucky for you, replacing your light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs can shorten your to-do list and save you money on your next energy bill!

Technology has advanced a lot since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb in 1878. The latest and greatest is called the LED bulb. The light emitting diode in the bulb are small (about the size of a fleck of pepper), don't need reflectors or diffusers, and emit very little heat (1). Here are a couple reasons why you should make the switch to LEDs.

1. Traditional Light Bulbs Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Traditional light bulbs like compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use mercury and other nobles gases such as argon to create light (3). These chemicals are a hazard if the bulb breaks and can be detrimental to your health. LEDs on the other hand do not contain any mercury. Making the switch to LED bulbs is a good option to reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

2. LED Bulbs Last Longer Than Traditional Light Bulbs

One LED bulb can last for years. It is estimated that LEDs last between 20,000 to 50,000 hours (2). That means that LEDs last 3 to 25 times as long as old-school incandescent bulbs and 10 times as long as CFLs. Imagine only having to buy one light bulb when you would otherwise have to buy 25. That's a significant cost saving and a large reduction in waste!

3. LED Bulbs Are More Energy Efficient

LEDs use 25-80% less energy compared to similarly bright incandescent and CFL bulbs (1). This is because they more efficiently transfer energy into light, whereas traditional bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat. That's why traditional bulbs get so hot while LED bulbs remain cool to the touch. Replacing old holiday lights with LED lights can actually reduce the risk of combustion, burns, or Christmas tree fires.

Being more energy efficient means a lower energy bill! It is estimated that replacing one incandescent bulb with an LED bulb will save you $5 per year (4). This is a large reduction in your bill if you replace all the bulbs in your home!

4. LED Bulbs are Better for the Environment

When you switch to LED bulbs, you not only save money, but you also help improve the environment. How? Since LEDs last longer, you reduce the amount of waste you produce. If you're using fewer light bulbs, you have less to throw away! Other light bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, which can also create a challenge for safe waste disposal. LEDs are also an easy way to combat climate change because they use less energy, which means that you aren't using as much fossil fuel. It's a win-win situation!

Getting Started

If we have convinced you to make the switch to LEDs, make sure you purchase bulbs that are marked "Energy Star" on the box. This means that the bulb is approved by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the EPA and Department of Energy that promotes energy efficiency. While the cost of LED bulbs are slightly higher than incandescent and CFL bulbs, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and will save you money in the long run. Think of it as a small upfront investment in your family's (and the planet's) health and long-term savings!


References

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light
  2. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/the-light-bulb-showdown-leds-vs-cfls-vs-incandescent-bulbs-whats-the-best-deal-now-and-in-the-future/
  3. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/q-and-a-mercury-in-energy-saving-light-bulbs/3003352.article
  4. https://ledlightguides.com/how-much-do-led-lights-save/
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