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Change in washing habits can minimise marine pollution, study suggests

ANI | Updated: Jun 07, 2020 18:46 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], June 7 (ANI): Marine pollution can be reduced by bringing small changes in one's laundry habits, according to a new study.
The findings have been published by the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
"Every time you wash your clothes, thousands of tiny microfibres from the fabric are released into rivers, the sea, and the ocean, causing marine pollution," the study said.
Researchers from Northumbria University worked in partnership with Procter and Gamble, makers of Ariel, Tide, Downy and Lenor on the first major forensic study into the environmental impact of microfibres from real soiled household laundry.
Their forensic analysis revealed an average of 114 mg of microfibres were released per kilogram of fabric in each wash load during a standard washing cycle.
The researchers achieved a 30 per cent reduction in the number of microfibres released when they performed a 30-minute 15 degrees C wash cycle, in comparison to a standard 85-minute 40 degrees C cycle, based on typical domestic laundering.
If households changed to cooler, faster washes, they would potentially save 3,813 tonnes of microfibres being released into marine ecosystems in Europe.
The researchers found even more significant differences when they compared different microfibre release from different types of North American washing machines.
Households in North America and Canada have historically used high volume traditional top-loading washing machines with an average of 64 litre wash water volume. The market is gradually moving to high-efficiency machines which use up to 50 per cent less water and energy per load.

Therefore, these high-efficiency machines released fewer microfibres than traditional top-loading machines, with notable examples including a 70 per cent reduction in microfibres from polyester fleece fabrics and a 37 per cent reduction from polyester T-shirts.
Other key findings emerging from the study included:
- Larger wash loads led to a decrease in the release of microfibres, due to a lower ratio of water to the fabric. As such, the research team advises consumers to fill - but do not overfill - their washing machines. A correctly filled washing machine should be around three-quarters full.
- New clothes release more microfibres than older clothes. Microfibre release was more prominent in new clothes during the first eight washes.
- Fabric softeners were found to have no direct impact on microfibre release when tested in both European and North American washing conditions.
The team applied test methods used in forensic science, such as spectroscopic and microscopy techniques, to examine the structure and composition of the microfibres released from the clothing. This enabled the fibres to be weighed and characterised to determine the ratios of manmade to natural fibres being released from wash loads.
The researchers found that 96 per cent of the fibres released was natural, coming from cotton, wool, and viscose, with synthetic fibres, such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic accounting for just 4 per cent.
A positive point to note is that the natural fibres from plant and animal sources biodegrade much more rapidly than synthetic fibres.
John R Dean, Professor of Analytical and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, who led the study, said: this is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fibre release.
"We were surprised not only by the sheer quantity of fibres coming from these domestic wash loads but also to see that the composition of microfibres coming out of the washing machine does not match the composition of clothing going into the machine, due to the way fabrics are constructed," the professor said.
"Finding an ultimate solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibres released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design," Dean added. (ANI)