The amount of microplastics that we are releasing into our waterways each year is truly terrifying. I mean, it’s at the point now where we may as well call this planet ‘Plastic’ rather than ‘Earth’. Dreadful, I know.

Kynance Cove

A main culprit is clothing made of synthetic fabrics. Nylon, polyester, and acrylic are in so many of our clothes and they shed tiny microplastic fibres in the washing machine when on a cycle. Hundreds of thousands of them – microscopic in size – make their way into our water supply. Did you know that 72% of UK tap water now has microplastics in it? The percentage is even more alarming stateside, with 94.4% of tap water contaminated across the pond.

So while you might be making steps towards consuming less plastic packaging (which, don’t get me wrong, is fecking awesome), the very garments you’re living your ‘aspiring zero-waste’ life in might be undoing all your hard work.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you care about making the world better in more ways than one. So, as well as reducing your plastic consumption, you likely also support renewable energy, fair trade and the slow fashion movement amongst other things. You just want to be a good human, in other words.

If there’s one change I could encourage you to make, it would be to only introduce natural fibres into your life from now on. When the time comes to purchase a new garment or textile in the form of a towel, cleaning cloth or bedding, consider something made of biodegradable materials.

It can be really confusing when you see things like ‘recycled plastic’ on the label. Whether it be plastic bottles recycled into a fleece jacket or into a kitchen sponge. On the one hand, it’s commendable that a company has taken a waste product and created something out of it. However, whether it’s new plastic, or recycled, if it’s going to be washed, it’s going to pollute our seas. That’s the simple truth of it. Until someone invents a ridiculously fine mesh filter and fits all washing machines with it, our synthetic fibres are doing no good. Therefore, might I suggest that when the time comes, you look at something, well, better?

Sustainable textiles brands are already limited, so to throw this into the mix as well I realise is frustrating. However, the more it becomes common knowledge of this way that we’re polluting our water with clothing, the more brands are likely to jump on the bandwagon and support the natural fibre movement.

Support cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, silk, wool, rayon, jute, ramie, lyocell and tencel. And a nifty little one to introduce into your kitchen and bathroom cleaning stash is a luffa – totally compostable scrubby vegetable fibres. Scrub away, and when it’s knackered, compost it and get a new one. Forget all these synthetic cleaning cloths and scourers – opt for natural instead.

 

 

 

 

Photos: Sphynx

It’s the 2nd of June and what better time to bring to your attention the sickening levels of pollution suffocating our oceans than the second day of the MCS #plasticchallenge! For those of you that don’t know, the Marine Conservation Society have set a challenge this month – live without single-use plastic. I started warming up for this about a fortnight ago and had a real eye-opening into what was to come. I feel less shocked now that I’ve conquered my first day, but it’ll be interesting to see over the coming month just how many challenges I face! If you’d like to join, head here for more info.

There are a million and one topics I could focus on when it comes to pollution in the oceans, but I’d like to focus on the real gem of the day here: plastics. These can be broken down into two categories: macroscopic and microscopic. Macroscopic plastics: the water bottles, plastic bags, old fishing nets, lighters, toys, condoms and packaging of pretty much every kind that floats around at sea. The stuff that washes up on our beaches, gets wrapped around the heads of seals, turtles, seabirds, dolphins, sharks… you see where I’m going with this. Then, there are microplastics. These are the ninjas of the plastic world – the tiny beads in your facial exfoliator, the small fibres washing off your synthetic fabrics and of course larger plastics in the form of any of the aforementioned ‘macroplastic’ items that have been weathered and degraded into smaller pieces.

One could describe macroplastics as the unsightly sore thumbs of the oceans. The obvious. The artificial textures and colours of course stick out like the synthetic beacons they are, as they converge at vortex points around the globe. Take the giant pacific garbage patches for instance – islands of plastic debris that are concentrated by the opposing flow of various currents in our seas. These are a death trap to any animal that goes near them. Take a look at the photos below and tell me this is OK?

Coastal Care

Coastal Care

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

We’ve got a number of reasons why all this crap ends up out at sea. Number one is active littering. This is when an individual mindfully throws a plastic product into a waterway, where it eventually washes out to sea. Number two is accidental littering. See below:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/include/image_embed.php?image_file=http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/OceanTrash7.png&entry_url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/plastic-ocean-garbage_n_5191294.html&width=929&height=2951

Either way, the numbers are growing and soon enough this will be the norm across the world. The solution? We absolutely must start thinking differently about our resources and our environment.

Microplastics, the term coined by Plymouth University’s very own Richard Thompson are the terrifyingly tiny toxic teardrops of our oceans. They are consumed at low trophic levels (by small fish) and work their way up the food chain until it gets to, well, us (Lusher et al. 2013)! When we eat a fish, we remove the guts (where the bulk of the plastic remains), however microscopic plastics that work their way into the bloodstreams of these animals have the potential to end up in our bellies. Much more research is currently under way to explore the effects of this chain reaction, but what we do know is that there is the potential for physical damage by the plastic itself, along with chemical damage both by the plastic as it is broken down, and any external chemicals absorbed by the plastic and carried into each new living vessel.

What can you do?

1. Do not purchase any cosmetic products which contain plastic beads – look for the ingredient ‘polyethylene’ (exfoliators being key here!)

2. Reduce your plastic consumption – buy fruit and veg loose, carry a reusable water bottle, carry a folding fabric bag around with you everywhere for unexpected trips to pick up groceries etc.

3. Make a conscious effort to recycle

4. Pick up litter and put it in a bin when you see it