Annually, around 8 million tons of waste from plastic enter the oceans. Around 1.5 million tons of these plastic are less than 5 mm in diameter.
Microfiber strands, the most common form of microplastics, are considered as one of the most polluting particles on Earth. They get washed into the ocean either from the waste created when washing our clothes or industrial wastewater. These microfiber strands have been discovered near the surface of seawater across all regions of the Arctic, including the North Pole.
“Microplastics have reached the remote reaches of every corner in the Arctic Ocean, from Norway, to the North Pole, to the Canadian and US Arctic waters,” said Dr. Peter S. Ross, lead author of the study and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences. Ross blames our laundry and shopping habits for the cause of this pollution.
When scientists collected seawater samples from 71 different locations across the Arctic region, it was calculated that there were around 40 microplastic particles per one cubic meter of water (equivalent to 1.13 particles per cubic foot), having synthetic fibers as the most dominant source of microplastics. Evidence displayed that most fibers originated from the Atlantic from higher concentrations of microplastics in the Eastern Arctic than the Western Arctic.
The continuous pollution from clothing and textiles is concerning as the Arctic is considered as an vulnerable region to climate change. Concerns increase as microplastics from clothing and textiles are posed as a threat not only the marine wildlife, but also to humans. Studies have shown that there is possiblity on human ingestion of microplastic, especially on communities that rely heavily on seafood.
Even though the effect of microplastics on humans are still uncertain, Ross exclaims that he is “fairly confident that plastic is not good for any creature of any size or shape or feeding ecology, and that plastic offers zero nutrition.”
Almost two thirds of clothing that the textile industry produces consists of synthetic fibers such polyester nylon and acrylic. The vast majority of 40 million clothes produced every year consists of polyester, one of the synthetic fibers which is the most dominant source of microplastics at 92.3%.
Ross argues that clothing factories should not only consider the water use, dyes, chemicals and emissions that are used and produced , but also take the usage of fibers and the fiber shedding caused by laundry into consideration.