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Originally published October 31 2011

Is your washing machine contributing to the 'microplastic' pollution problem in the world's oceans?

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Much of the clothing people wear today is made with polyester, acrylic, rayon, and various other synthetic textile materials. And a new study published in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology has found that, when washed, such garments release high amounts of "microplastic" fibers that end up polluting the world's oceans.

Scientist Mark Browne and a team of researchers from Ireland, Canada, the UK, and Australia discovered that thousands of tiny fiber bits are shed from clothes every time they are washed. In tests, a single garment released as much as 1,900 polyester or acrylic threads, which are typically smaller than a pinhead. And eventually, these fibers ended up washing out to sea.

After poring 18 different coastlines around the world, Browne and his team learned that masses of these microplastic fibers are collecting on shores, particularly on those near densely-populated urban areas. Fish and other sea creatures end up eating these fibers, many of which are harmful, and passing them on to humans through the food chain.

"Designers of clothing and washing machines should consider the need to reduce the release of fibers into wastewater," wrote the study authors in their paper. "Research is needed to develop methods for removing microplastic from sewage."

All clothing items, no matter what they are made of, are prone to release fibers and other bits of material into the wash. But it is the synthetic materials that are the most harmful. In addition to those mentioned above, these include materials like acetate, triacetate, nylon, and some static- and wrinkle-resistant materials.

Preferable alternatives include organic cotton, linen, wool, silk, and hemp, which are all natural fibers with far less of an environmental impact. They also tend not to be treated with harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, teflon, and various perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are known to disrupt proper hormonal balance and cause neurological problems.

Another way to help reduce your impact on the environment when washing clothes is to use laundry detergents that are free of petrochemicals, dyes, 1,4-dioxane, and other harmful chemicals. Many of these toxins end up escaping from water treatment plants and getting dumped into oceans along with the fibers.

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