An Ocean full of microplastics!

UN environment programme animation on how microplastics affect our health

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that between 15% and 31% of all plastic pollution comes from microplastics. So, we now have an ocean full of microplastics. Some research estimates that every week we eat the amount in weight of a credit card of microplastics. It is also raining down on us from the clouds even here in cities like London. How is this possible?

Microfibres and the food chain

An ocean full of microplastics. Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels

Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels

Synthetic microfibres, which clothing releases during every wash, account for roughly a third of plastic in the ocean. They are so tiny that they can seem like food for zooplankton. These are microscopic living organisms which drift or float in water. One of them is called krill and is a tiny shrimp-like crustacean which lives in cold seas. Some of the zooplankton eat algae but due to the ingestion of microfibres they are no longer able to digest it. These animals are at the base of the food chain in the ocean, bigger zooplankton, fish and marine mammals like whales eat them. So, we shouldn’t be surprised if they might end up on our dinner plate.

An ocean full of microplastics. Photo by Silvana Palacios from Pexels

Photo by Silvana Palacios from Pexels

What can we do in order not to have an ocean full of microplastics?

Buy less, buy better

Buying fewer clothes and fewer new clothes is still a good aim for the environment as the fashion industry is a big polluter. Stop wearing man-made fibres is also better so check the label before buying any new item.

Some brands like Fjallraven and Patagonia are trying to reduce the number of microfibres in their products. Some other companies or small start-ups are now producing clothes made from recycled plastic. Patagonia actually started using recycled plastic bottles to make their garments back in 1993. Since 1985 they have pledged 1% of their sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment!

Also, manufacturers make many other items out of synthetic fibres like cushions, carpets, bags, dog beds or even sheets and covers. So, be mindful about what you buy and see if you can find items by manufacturers which make them more sustainably.

Washing machine

An ocean full of microplastics. Guppyfriend bag for your laundry

Guppyfriend bag for you laundry

Ludo bought a Guppyfriend bag to put her synthetic clothes in or you can get a filter to catch the microfibres in the washing machine. Hopefully, in the future, these filters will be compulsory for new machines. There is one which Mermaids developed, through a project funded by the EU. You can wash clothes less frequently and on shorter washes. Also, at lower temperatures and make sure your washing machine is full. Clothes in full machines get agitated less and therefore shed fewer fibres.

Microbeads

An ocean full of microplastics. MPCA Photos

MPCA Photos microbeads-plastic-particles

Microbeads are manufactured solid plastic particles of less than one millimetre at their largest dimension. Tiny beads of plastics are contained in some toothpastes, sun cream, make-up, face and hand wash and body scrub. When you wash after using these products the small beads go down the drain and in the end, they reach rivers and waterways. The beads can absorb and concentrate pollutants like pesticides. Animals still eat them thinking they are food.

In some countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan they have banned their use and some brands have stopped using them in their products. The UK approved the ban in June 2018. So, if you still find a product which includes microbeads please report it to the owner of the shop so they can take them off the shelves.

[Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbead and “How to Give Up Plastic: A Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time” by Will McCallum]

Eco Household Items

Household items like sponges, cloths, brushes and scouring pads are usually made from non-biodegradable plastics. So, you cannot recycle them and most of them end up in landfill sites. Keep a look out for eco household items.

Of course, you should keep using the items you already have at home until they are old and make any changes only when needed. If you have an old cotton towel or a bathrobe you can make your own dishcloths, washcloths or kitchen towels.

If you need to buy some of these items there are a number of options that are more sustainable and do the same job.

Eco household items - E-Cloth sponge

E-Cloth sponge

Instead of traditional synthetic sponges to clean dishes, sinks or worktops Ludo recently found a new product at the supermarket that works just with water, you don’t need any chemical. You can wash it regularly in the washing machine at up to 60c. It’s important not to use bleach with it as this can be very damaging if it makes its way to the sea. Unfortunately, the product is still synthetic so it releases microfibres. There are ways of collecting these microfibres and prevent them from going into the drainage system. One option is using a Guppy Friend washing bag when washing your clothes. Ludo uses this and the producer E-Cloth also recommends it and indeed for any garment or item made from man-made fibre.

Eco household items - loofah dishwashing sponge

Loofah dishwashing sponge

Other eco household items she also bought, but has not yet tried, a 100% biodegradable dishwashing sponges made from the loofah plant. So, you can throw it in the compost bin after use. It is thin and hard at first sight but once soaked in water it expands and softens. The brand, Goldrick, are also a supplier for the National Trust and it says it should last 4-6 weeks.

Replace your brush to wash dishes

Eco household items - Pot Brush

Pot Brush

Instead of using a dish-washing brush, you can choose one with a wooden handle. Make sure you check if the wood comes from sustainable resources though. Alternatively, you can get a bamboo one with replaceable heads. The bristles should be from plant-based material otherwise you need to remove them before throwing the brush away in the compost bin.

Are you still using paper towels to mop up food spillages? You should switch to bamboo paper towels. These are stronger, will soak up more, they can be washed and used up to eight times before going in the compost bin.