What is microplastic and where does it come from?
If you find a plastic bottle on the beach, you know: It's garbage and doesn't belong here. But the very small plastic particles, the microplastics, are usually not visible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, it is becoming an ever-increasing problem for our environment.
And what interests us, of course: where is microplastic found in clothing and how does it get into the wastewater? What can we do to protect our seas from microplastics from clothing?
What is microplastic?
So far, there is no globally uniform definition of microplastics. The Federal Environment Agency describes microplastics as solid, water-insoluble plastic particles that are five millimeters and smaller. Particles even smaller than 0.00001mm are called nanoplastic particles. But the microplastic particles are also so small that they can hardly be seen with the naked eye and are therefore difficult to remove.
Researchers only became aware of microplastics in the late 1990s. After studies then detected the smallest plastic particles in the air, in the soil and in the water in the early 2000s, microplastics became a major public issue.
There are two types of microplastics:
- The primary microplastic that is industrially produced. It occurs in the form of granules and pellets, for example in cosmetics, cleaning agents, packaging, containers and fishing nets, and as a result often ends up in the waste water.
- Secondary microplastics are formed when plastic (e.g. plastic bags or plastic bottles) in the environment ages and breaks down over time. This can be caused by the weather, cleaning processes or mechanical friction: A plastic bag that has been thrown away disintegrates in the sun, wind or waves. Plastic waste ends up in rivers or seas and is shredded there. When washing a T-shirt made from synthetic textile fibers, small microplastic particles are released and end up in the waste water. Cars produce a large amount of microplastics through tire abrasion.
Up to 30 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year (according to a study by the Federal Environment Agency). There they are then gradually ground into microplastics. According to current knowledge, the microplastics found in the environment mainly consist of secondary microplastics.
A study by the environmental organization WWF from 2020 states that we ingest up to 5 grams of microplastics per week on average. That would be about as much as a credit card weighs.
Microplastics in clothing:
Over a third of the microplastics in the sea come from textiles. But where do you find the microplastics in clothing and how does it get into the sewage system?
Plastic is contained in our clothing in synthetic fibers that are manufactured using chemical processes and are therefore also called synthetic chemical fibers or synthetic fibers for short. They are made from the non-renewable and scarce raw material petroleum and are not biodegradable. These include, for example, polyester, polyacrylic or polyamide.
Garments made from synthetic fibers shed small fibers with every wash. With every wash cycle, small microfibers come loose due to abrasion in the washing machine. During the spin cycle, high washing temperatures and detergents, the fiber structure of the textiles is attacked and easily damaged. Fiber abrasion occurs on the surface of the textiles. The dissolved microfiber particles are usually so tiny that washing machines - and also sewage treatment plants - are unable to filter them out of the water. With every wash cycle, an average of 2000 of these small microplastic particles get into our rivers and seas via the wastewater. And with the sewage sludge, they can also get into the air and into the soil, which also allows them to enter our food cycle.
How about our riding leggings made of polyamide?
Important: The higher the washing temperature and the rougher the surface of the clothing, the greater the abrasion. That means: with very smooth fabrics, such as our riding leggings, only very few microplastic particles are released during the wash. A fluffy polyester fleece jacket, for example, is much worse. That's why we use pure organic cotton for our fleece jacket. In addition, our riding leggings are of course not made from newly manufactured polyamide, but from recycled polyamide from old fishing nets from the sea. If these fishing nets stayed in the sea and floated there for years, they would emit significantly more microplastics, as the sea would be comparable to a permanent and never-ending wash. And in addition, countless sea creatures would also get caught in the nets. So the problem of microplastics is not completely gone for us either, but we minimize it as much as we can.
Tips for avoiding microplastics in clothing:
- Buy clothes made of synthetic fibers like polyester, polyamide, etc. only if they are very smooth
- When washing, also use laundry bags that catch the small microfibers that are caused by abrasion: Try the “Guppy Friend” wash bag, for example ( https://guppyfriend.com/products/guppyfriend-washbag )
- Do not wash your clothes made of synthetic fibers more often than necessary, at a low temperature and with a low spin speed
- Never empty the lint filter of your washing machine or dryer in the sink but always in the trash can so that the fibers caught in the filter do not end up in the drain
- See if products made from natural fibers might also be better suited to your needs, e.g. buy a functional shirt made from Lyocell rather than one made from polyester
- Avoid plastic packaging when you go shopping
- Talk to friends and acquaintances about the problem of microplastics. Share your knowledge about microplastics in clothing with others so that less and less microplastics end up in the environment
What will happen in the future?
There is still a lot to be researched with regard to microplastics - especially with regard to how microplastics affect human and animal health.
It is extremely questionable whether we will succeed in getting all the plastic waste and microplastics out of the seas. It is therefore important to ensure from now on that no more of it ends up in our environment. We cannot yet foresee the consequences for our ecosystem, animals and our health.
It is a very critical issue and above all a difficult one. However, we can promise you that we act to the best of our knowledge and belief when it comes to microplastics and that we always try to find the best solution in terms of longevity and sustainability. If you have any questions about the topic, please write us in the comments here or send a message on Instagram or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org :)