Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Next Environmental Crisis - Lint

How tiny synthetic fibers released from clothing are ending up in the environment and in our food
researchers are increasingly worried that fibers from fleece and other synthetic garments are making journeys of their own to soils, rivers, and oceans where they can damage wildlife and even end up in the human food supply.

Scientists have dubbed these escapees “microfibers” because they are commonly only tens of microns wide and millimeters long. They are a tiny, often invisible, subset of the larger class of microplastics, which include plastic beads that enhance the scrubbing action of some personal care products. Another source of microplastics is small particles that come from larger, degraded plastic items.

Microplastics are a pollution problem because they can be mistaken for food by marine life both big and small. They can interrupt normal feeding and digestion processes and leach chemicals such as colorants and other additives. In addition, plastic bits can attract and carry around persistent pollutants such as pesticides and flame retardants that adsorb on their surfaces.

Indeed, the environmental case against microplastics was strong enough to spur U.S. legislators to prohibit the use of microbeads in personal care products.

It would be much more difficult to outlaw what is essentially lint. Microfibers may seem like innocuous stuff to the average consumer, but researchers and sustainability experts in the apparel industry are concerned that the fibers—which may be made of polyester, polypropylene, or acrylic and can include chemicals designed to repel stains or water—carry environmental risks similar to microbeads.

“Microfibers are the biggest plastic pollution issue you haven’t heard of yet,” says Angela Howe, legal director for the advocacy group Surfrider Foundation.
 Another government solution looking for a problem to latch onto and ride into the ground.

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