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  • Rachel Gallagher

Life In Microplastics? Not So Fantastic

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Fashion has a tiny but invasive problem. It’s a problem so small that we can’t even see it. Microplastics, which are plastics smaller than 5 millimetres, are taking over the world.

Recently I’ve been hearing rumblings about microplastics. Occasionally, I’ll hear a snippet of conversation or come across an article about the growing issue of these infinitesimal plastics that have invaded our lives, our planet and quite literally, our bodies.

You might think these tiny plastics are no big deal. What harm can a bit of plastic do? Well, microplastics are actually a real concern – definitely one that you should know about – and I’m going to show you why.

But first off, what exactly are microplastics?

Microplastics is a fancy-sounding name for the tiny plastic particles that shed from our use of fabrics and objects made from plastic. Any of your clothes with polyester, acrylic or nylon listed on their clothing tags are made from plastic. Go through your wardrobe and check the tags of your outfits for those three synthetics alone, and you’ll start to see where we’re heading with this.

But you aren’t the only one wearing plastic clothes. We all do. Around 60% of our clothes are made from plastic. In a time where a garment is worn only 7 times before being thrown away, with 100 to 150 billion garments produced per year, the problem of microplastics starts becoming a little clearer.

The clothing label on a pair gym leggings, made from 100% synthetic fibres.


The trouble is, these microplastics are polluting at an alarming scale. For example, when we wash our synthetic (plastic) clothes, they release their tiny little microplastics into the water. In a typical wash, up to 700,000 plastic fibres can come off our synthetic clothes. This plastic polluted water has found its way to the stomachs of marine animals, infiltrated our food chain, and is now being found everywhere on earth. Microplastics have been detected near the peak of Mount Everest, in the depths of the Mariana Trench, and are even showing up in baby poop and human blood. They’re in our outdoor air, they’re found inside buildings, and even in the dust on the floor - 33% of floating dust in your home is made of plastic microfibres from textiles!

As much as we’ve discovered about microplastics, there are still things that we don’t know, particularly about the damage to humans from plastic pollution.

In October 2021, The SeaCleaners interviewed Britta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, and there was a lot to be said about our lack of knowledge on the long-term impacts of plastics:

“Despite everything we know about plastic pollution, there are still great unknowns. We know that plastic contains hormone mimics, endocrine disruptors. Work has shown that humans absorb plastic from the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. It’s really everywhere, all the time, and increasingly so. One of the big questions that arises, and it’s very difficult to study, because it’s impossible to study a population of humans who would not have been exposed to plastic, is, “What is the actual demonstrated impact of damage to humans from plastic pollution?What is the sublethal or even lethal impact of ingesting plastic or being exposed to it?” These are questions that research teams around the world are working to better understand.”

Yikes.

Now that you know all this, you might be wondering how we can stop contributing to microplastic pollution. There are a few things that we can do.


Check the tags of the next clothes you buy. Opt for clothes made from natural fibres like cotton, linen, hemp and wool, which don’t shed microplastics when washed – extra points for you if they’re second-hand garments.

An AI interpretation of microplastics in water, made with Leonardo.AI

Encourage your friends, family and anyone who’ll listen to do the same (start by sending them this blog post!) and put pressure on your favourite brands to move away from making clothes with synthetic fabrics and fibres.


My prediction is that, as we begin to learn more about what microplastics are and their very real impacts on our bodies and our environment, we will be hearing more about these tiny plastic invaders sooner than we think.


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