Falling annually on 5th June, World Environment Day is the UN's most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.
Each year’s theme highlights a pressing environment concern, and this year is no different with its timely message to #BeatPlasticPollution. With TV shows such as BBC’s Blue Planet 2 highlighting the extent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and current predictions suggesting that by 2050 there’ll be more plastic in the sea than fish, it’s an issue we all need to take immediate action on.
Microplastics have received a lot of press, as researchers reveal how these microscopic fragments of plastic are the scourge of our oceans. We’ve written here on the blog about microplastics being ingested by fish and being discovered in our deepest oceans, but it turns out microplastics are causing just as much havoc on land.
Is it true microplastics come from our clothes?
One of the main sources of microplastics is from our clothing. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of the microplastics found in the ocean are actually micro-fibres from synthetic clothing. These fibres are shed every time synthetic clothing is washed, making their way from the waterways to the ocean. Sports clothing is one of the worst culprits. Those fancy expensive yoga pants promising synthetic dry-wicking magic are in fact releasing micro-fibres every time they’re washed – not very yogic!
Polluting not just our oceans
The biggest focus so far on microplastics has been their effect on our oceans – researchers were horrified to discover them in most of the fish they surveyed. But the most recent research has been on the effect of microplastics on our land-based ecosystems. Over 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year and it’s estimated that one third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwaters. Sewage sludge, applied to fields as fertiliser, is a big factor in this distribution of several thousand tons of microplastics, mainly from micro-fibres, into our soil each year.
What does this mean for the environment?
It’s early days understanding the risks of such high levels of “hidden” plastic in the earth’s eco-systems. What researchers from Germany are agreed on is that terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than marine microplastic pollution – estimated at four to 23 times higher, depending on the environment.
On the whole when plastic particles break down they gain new physical and chemical properties, which in turns increases the risk that they will have a toxic effect on organisms. The researchers involved in the project are warning that the impact of microplastics in soils, sediments and freshwater could have a long-term negative effect on such ecosystems. Researcher Anderson Abel de Souza Machado, who is leading the study, suggests that “the results to date are concerning: fragments of plastic are present practically all over the world and can trigger many kinds of adverse effects. The previously observed effects of microplastics and nanoplastics on terrestrial ecosystems around the world indicate that these ecosystems may also be in serious jeopardy."
What can we do?
The most important action we can all take, highlighted by this year’s World Environment Day theme, is to curb our plastic addiction. Simple actions such as choosing reusable daily items: shopping bags; water bottles; coffee cups; straws; cutlery; toothbrushes etc and opting for less packaging on our food, all make a difference.
We also all need to think carefully about the clothing we buy. Great initiatives such as #whomademyclothes from Fashion Revolution highlight the importance of transparency in the clothing industry in order to protect garment workers in developing countries.
But microfibres in our clothing is an equally pressing issue for the state of our planet – both blue and green parts of it. #BeatPlasticPollution really needs to include the clothing we wear, and the companies we support. Choosing natural fabrics is an important step towards minimising the effects of microplastics on the world’s ecosystems, and we hope we’ve made it an easy one with our range of beautiful, ethical, long-lasting activewear.
Choose reusable - if you can't reuse it, refuse it!