I read this article with utter horror this week. It seems that the River Mersey near Manchester has the highest recorded levels of microplastics in the world. The world!
Microplastics have only recently come to light - microscopic pieces of plastics from the breakdown of litter, and pollution and fibres from clothing, discarded during the washing process.
This issue of litter in waterways has hit the press big style and thankfully, people are starting to take note, lobby manufacturers and personally try and avoid plastics in particular. Public litterpicks seem to be on the rise; this is a really excellent way to get your community out and actively improving surroundings. And it's a lot of fun!
But clothing fibres are a lot more tricky. If you were to take a look at your clothes you will almost certainly find that they are predominantly made of plastics - polyester, polypropylene, polyamide (nylon) etc. Unlike natural fibres, like wool, cotton or linen, which biodegrade to nothing in watercourses, the very same features that give synthetics such an advantage - being hardwearing for example - make them a serious issue when the water they're washed in enters our treatment systems.
When I've been 'discussing' the issue of microplastics online (those kind of discussions that seem to end in ridiculous arguments!) then some people absolutely insist that it is the responsibility of manufacturers, both of clothing and of washing machines, to sort the problem out. And I do agree: when you purchase an item of clothing made of synthetic fibres it will be much cheaper than the equivalent made of natural. This is not without its reasons. Not only is the raw material (petroleum) a cheap resource, the labour in production more minimal (and often exploitative) but there is no accounting for future clean up costs caused by pollution or eventual disposal. The difference in price, the additional costs, are just offset for future generations to deal with. Cheap clothing and washing machine manufacturers are just not that bothered at the moment because it's not their immediate problem, and that sucks. Doubtless there will come a time, usually at crisis point, where regulations and legislation will force them to take action, maybe adding sophisticated filters to outlet hoses, or surface treatments to clothing, but by then, how much damage will have been done?
I think it's imperative that we begin by looking at what we can do ourselves in the meantime. So here's a few suggestions:
I'm sorry to say, and it's pointed out in the original report, that the River Mersey is probably not usual. It's like that your local river is in a similar state, and it's likely that more evidence of the issue will come to light now it's being properly investigated. But let's make a start. Let's do something positive and see how we go eh?
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.