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Microplastics: 175,000 TONS of synthetic fibers are released on the land every year when washing clothes

Microplastic pollution is not only harmful to the oceans: when washing clothes, 175,000 TONS of synthetic fibers are released on land every year, according to research.

  • American experts analyzed the amount of microfibers made and released every year
  • They also looked at how fibers are processed in wastewater treatment plants
  • Here the small threads of plastic end up in silt for arable land or go to the landfill
  • In fact, more plastic fibers end up on land than in the sea, the team found

Washing clothes pollutes the land with about 175,000 tons of synthetic fibers per year – on top of the microplastic pollution that enters the seas – a study has found.

The findings of US-based researchers can help find effective solutions to stop the spread of synthetic fibers while increasing our understanding of their impact.

At less than five millimeters in length, microfibers are produced at every step of the garment manufacturing process – and are released when clothes are machine washed.

Washing clothes pollutes the land with about 175,000 tons of synthetic fibers per year ¿on top of microplastic pollution that enters the seas ¿, a study found

Washing clothes pollutes the land with about 175,000 tons of synthetic fibers per year – on top of the microplastic pollution that enters the seas – a study has shown

“The large-scale removal of microfibers from the environment is technically unfeasible or economically unfeasible, so the focus must be on emissions prevention,” said Jenna Gavigan of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Since wastewater treatment plants do not necessarily reduce emissions to the environment, our focus should be on reducing emissions before they enter the wastewater stream.”

Synthetic fabrics – such as polyester and nylon – are the most commonly used fibers in the textile industry, accounting for more than 60 percent of the materials used to produce clothing worldwide.

About 15 percent of all plastic is used to make synthetic fibers, especially for clothing.

While there is a lot of focus on plastic pollution in our oceans, there is less focus on the amount dumped on land, which is now higher.

Fiber-filled water is filtered at sewage treatment plants after garments have been mechanically washed.

Most plastic pellets are collected along with so-called biosolid sludge – which is then often spread over cropland or buried in a landfill.

In their study, the researchers combined data on the global production, consumption and release of plastics with the amount of microfibers released when washing clothes by hand and with a machine.

They also investigated how microfibers are handled in wastewater treatment plants and the fate of wastewater sludge.

“Our calculations showed that between 1950 – the start of the widespread use of synthetic fibers – and 2016, about 5.6 million tons of synthetic microfibres were released when washing clothes,” said Ms. Gavigan.

Half of this figure, she added, was released “ in the past 10 years. ”

Almost half of the microfibers ended up on land, either at the surface – a total of 1.9 million tons – or in landfills, for an amount of 606,000 tons.

About 176,000 tons of plastic fibers are dumped on land, compared to 165,000 tons in water.

“This paper is not the complete picture as the data is predicted rather than measured and authors had to make estimates to make assumptions where raw data was not available,” said RMIT expert Oliver Jones.

Even though their results are overestimated, they are still a cause for concern and something we really need to address sooner rather than later.

The full findings of the study have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.


Urban flooding is flushing microplastics into our oceans even faster than thought, according to scientists looking at pollution in rivers.

Greater Manchester waterways are now so polluted by microplastics that particles are found in every sample, even in the smallest streams.

This pollution is a major contributor to the pollution of the oceans, researchers discovered as part of the first detailed river basin-wide study anywhere in the world.

This waste – including microbeads and microfibers – is toxic to ecosystems.

Scientists tested 40 sites in Manchester and found that every waterway contained these tiny toxic particles.

Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic waste, including microbeads, microfibers and plastic fragments.

They have long been known to enter river systems from multiple sources, including industrial wastewater, stormwater runoffs, and domestic wastewater.

While about 90 percent of microplastic pollution in the oceans is thought to come from land, not much is known about their movements.

Most of the rivers studied contain about 517,000 plastic particles per square meter, according to researchers at the University of Manchester who conducted the detailed study.

After a period of major flooding, the researchers re-sampled at all locations.

They found that contamination levels had dropped in most of them, and that the flood had removed about 70 percent of the microplastics in the riverbeds.

This shows that floods can transfer large amounts of microplastics from the urban river to the oceans.