Are you eating your clothes? You probably are, in the form of teeny-tiny synthetic fibres that go down the drain when we do laundry, into our waterways and into the food chain.
According to new research released by the always excellent Hubbub, 44 per cent of the public are totally unaware that microfibres could end up in our food. A further 44 per cent didn't realise that synthetic fibres like polyester, acrylic and nylon are forms of plastic, therefore posing the same problems as microbeads from toiletries.
It's on an even larger scale though: 500,000 tonnes of plastic microfibres become ocean pollution every year, 16 times the mass of microbeads. An estimated 35 per cent of those plastic microfibres come from textiles.
We know that microscopic fibres – which absorb toxic chemicals – are ending up in food like salt, beer, honey and more, but we're not sure what they might do to our health and what the government's going to do about it.
Step forward #WhatsInMyWash, a new campaign from Hubbub asking us and the industry to take action.
For Joe Public, this can mean very simple things like not washing our clothes so often – if you can get another wear out of something or air it instead, do – and running shorter, gentler cycles in the machine to reduce the friction that causes microfibres to shed. Lower temperatures (like 30ºC) will reduce wear, and resultant shedding, too.
Hubbub also recommends we avoid using a tumble dryer as this damages clothes, but if we do use a condenser tumble dryer not to empty the liquid down the sink as it may contain microplastics. More, very sound, advice is to buy higher quality clothes that will avoid the bin for longer – synthetic clothes breaking down in landfill are another source of microplastics – and to buy natural fibres instead of man-made.
All this is better for the environment anyway – using less energy and water, and fewer plastic materials, are always good – and for your bank balance in the long run. Win-win.
Trewin Restorick, CEO of Hubbub, comments: "Plastic microfibres are ending up in our waterways, ecosystems and in our food and drink and we don't yet know what impact this will have. The issue is complicated and the messages are confusing. Our research suggests that levels of knowledge and awareness around microfibres amongst the public are low, so today we're launching some clear actions that consumers can take to help reduce the amount of microfibres released from household washing.
"There is also an urgent need for more research and action at an industrial level – from exploring better filter systems in water treatment plants and washing machines to producing and selling clothes which are less likely to shed microfibres. It is critical that more is done to explore the potential impact on our health of eating food that contain these plastic particles."
Follow the campaign on the socials via #WhatsInMyWash or see more in this handy video.