Why micro waste is the new plastic pollution to worry about & how to stop it

There are now many banned plastic products: plastic straws, plastic bags, Microbeads, to name a few. The Ocean Cleanup is underway (again). You’d be hard pressed to find a plastic straw in most pubs, bars and restaurants these days. So you’re be right to think we’re starting to turn the tide on our plastics problem.

I’ve recently been reading about something which has seriously eroded my excitement with this progress on plastics we’ve been seeing lately. Though it’s been written about for ages, I’ve only just learned about micro waste - and friends, I have to say we should be very afraid.

What is it?

Micro waste or micro plastic is the tiny plastic/synthetic particles that typically come from washing synthetic fabrics. If they’re so small, it can’t be that bad, right?Well, to give you an idea of the scale of the problem, around 60 percent of all textiles are now made from synthetic materials , according to the International Cotton Advisory Commitee (ICAC). Vox had a great piece about this back in January this year, which pointed out that one single load of laundry could release hundreds of thousands of fibers from our clothes into the water supply. Individually, these fibres are barely detectable to the human eye at something like just 5mm in length.

The problem with all of these micro waste fibres is that they’re so small that current filters in our washing machines and in our water treatment facilities can’t screen them out. They’re accumulating in our water ways and into the food chain in record numbers. A June 2019 WWF Australia report highlights a recent study which found that people may be consuming 5 grams of plastic PER WEEK! That’s equivalent to the size of a credit card. The study found that a vast majority of that plastic ingestion is down to the plastics found in our drinking water - including even bottled water. This figure below maps out this chain to show how micro waste works it’s way into our diets:

Tiny plastic particles are making their way into oceans from our everyday washing. Image credit: Guppyfriend

Tiny plastic particles are making their way into oceans from our everyday washing. Image credit: Guppyfriend

How can we stop it?

My colleague and I were talking about this problem briefly recently, and she mentioned she’s been using the Guppyfriend. It’s a 50cm x 70cm (~20inches x 30inches) bag that you wash clothes in. Its fine mesh captures micro watse your synthetic clothes produce. I only just bought mine (from the Ethical Superstore) and have yet to start using it, but I had to share with you about this seemingly easy solution.

Now a quick word about my colleague. She’s is a bastion of eco-friendly and low impact living knowledge. A total inspiration. I know for a fact that my colleague wouldn’t recommend something she didn’t find to be useful, good, and solid.

Apparently using the Guppyfriend is easy peasy: pop your clothes in, and at the end of the wash, clean out the fibres and throw them away. I bet it will be surprising how much your clothes really do produce. Here are the instructions from the packaging:

the Guppyfriend stops micro waste from entering our waterways

the Guppyfriend stops micro waste from entering our waterways

So even though I haven’t used mine yet, I’m going to recommend this already. I’ll check back in when I have. Let me know in the comments or send me a message if you’ve started to use one. And remember, cotton and natural fabrics don’t need this screen as their fibres biodegrade- I see a re-think of my wardrobe on the horizon!