You're sipping your chai tea from a jam jar, your lunch box is recycled stainless steel, so is your reusable drink bottle, and it's BPA free! You care about planetary health and are making impactful lifestyle choices. But then you throw your jeans in the wash, also that warm fleece jumper that feels like a hug. Add in socks, undies, gym gear and soon your top-loader is full.
While your washing is churning away you flick through the pages of Environmental Science & Technology and here you discover that a typical load of washing releases around 700,000 microplastic fibres from clothing per wash. Bewildered by that information, but also a little unsure of what it all means, you do some digging.
Headlines fly out at you "Microplastics found in mothers' placenta", "Microplastics make up 20% of fish gut content", "Microplastics, the new badass climbing Mt Everest faster than YOU". You're feeling overwhelmed and suspicious about the contents of every product in your house and want to do something about it.
Microplastics are tiny fibres, less than 5-millimeters in length that become dislodged from their larger plastic counterparts through various processes such as mechanical disintegration - think washing machines, right through to atmospheric agents such as UV radiation. Microplastics are also commercially produced and used in various products, such as cosmetics. Recently scientists collected a bunch of snow and water samples from Mt Everest and found microplastics 8440 metres up the mountain. Microplastics have also been found in the placenta of pregnant women and a study by Environmental International found that the majority of the ocean floor, world-wide,is now made of plastic.
So how do we stop microplastics from taking over the planet?
Avoid plastic whenever possible! When we avoid plastic or plastic wrapped products we send a message to manufacturers that we want a better alternative - and when people start avoiding a product, companies take notice.
Now, when it comes to washing your clothes, you can try to opt for natural fibres over polyester and use products like a guppy friend - they catch plastic microfibers and stop them entering our waterways. Where possible, buy bulk or opt for low plastic options at grocery stores. Invest in reusable glass, stainless-steel or bamboo products to store food and beverages. Take a leisurely trip to the local bakery and pick up a loaf of fresh bread in a paper bag, ride home with it in your bicycle basket for extra enjoyment. Making spag-bowl tonight? Why not save the pasta sauce jar and fill it with your own sauce creations? Or you can support great companies that are reducing their plastic footprint and finding alternative ways to wrap their products.
Now, let's journey back to your kitchen. You're sipping that home-made chai from your jam jar. You cast your gaze across the room and notice a pamphlet mixed in with your mail. It's for a sewing course run by the local community centre. You treat yourself to a class and learn how to throw a stitch. Now you mend your clothes and minimise your consumption of fast fashion. You use produce bags, not plastic bags when you visit the fruit market. You wash your clothes after a coffee spill, not after every coffee date, saving thousands of particles from finding their way into the sea. You are taking the ocean floor back, one less load of washing a week, two fewer plastic purchases a day, and one hemmed item at time. You are climbing environmental Everest. And the view is great, keep going!
If you're looking to curb the amount of plastics in your life, we've got plenty of blogs to help! Explore some of these:
Written by Kate Cussen
Kate is a scientist specialising in environmental pollutants, a freelance writer, avid hiker and professional waterfall finder.