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Taking on microfibers — One washing machine at a time

Most of us never think of our clothing as being a source of pollution or a possible health risk, but in the United States, as much as 60 percent of our clothing is made of plastic. The rest may be made from natural materials, but they are often covered in dyes, heavy metals and other chemicals.

Around 2010, environmental scientists began to focus on microplastics and microfibers — small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than one millimeter (or 0.039 inches). Microplastics come from a range of sources, including cosmetics, clothing and industrial processes, while others are the result of a breakdown of larger plastics.

Since that time, a number of studies have been done, including one in 2011, led by Australian ecotoxicologist Mark Browne, who found that microfibers made up 85 percent of man-caused shoreline debris. In all the studies since 2011, the focus has been on finding out how harmful microfibers are to coastal ecosystems, oceans, and marine life and whether they affect human health.

In 2016, Digital Journal reported on a study on the potential impact of microplastics launched by the British government. The results of this study resulted in the U.K. government banning the use of microbeads in cosmetics in September 2016.

In March 2017, Digital Journal reported on a year’s worth of data collected by the State of Florida that found a predominance of microfibers, shreds of plastic even smaller than microbeads flowing down bathroom and kitchen drains.

A change for startups to find a solution to the problem
The logical conclusion in just about all the studies has been to focus on washing machines and clothing manufacturers. It would be a simple fix to create a better filter, one that would catch tiny pieces of plastic fiber in addition to the occasional nickel or sock.

Almost 90 percent of the world s seabirds have plastics in their intestines.

Almost 90 percent of the world’s seabirds have plastics in their intestines.
Chris Jordan/Greenpeace

While public awareness and better consumer education will go a long way in making people aware of the microplastic and microfiber pollution problem, there needs to be more research into fabrics that are more environmentally friendly and contain a lot less plastic.

But the microplastics problem has created an opportunity for the development of some innovative solutions. According to the Associated Press, there are at least four products, with names such as Guppy Friend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibers.

About Guppy Friend
“Blaming industry or government won’t solve the problems,” said Alexander Nolte, co-founder of Guppyfriend, a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping. “Buy less and better; wash less and better.”

The Guppy Friend - Making the invisible visible: Micro fibers can be removed by hand after each wash...

The Guppy Friend – Making the invisible visible: Micro fibers can be removed by hand after each wash or after several washing cycles. Over time it adds up.

STOP! MICRO WASTE is a nonprofit company from Berlin and was initiated by LANGBRETT – a group of surfers, skaters, and nature lovers – driven by the desire to create sustainable clothes for the surf and outdoor sports. Brainstorming sessions led to the creation of the Guppyfriend washing bag in 2016.

The company claims the Guppy Friend filters out the tiniest microfibers released from textiles during washing. The self-cleaning fabric bag is made of a specially designed micro-filter material.

The patented washing bag can be used for any textiles that contain synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester or polyamide. It’s especially useful for fleece and synthetic soft-shell jackets and garments.

About Cora Ball
The Cora Ball is the invention of a nonprofit environmental group called the Rozalia Project, headquartered in Granville, Vermont. Talking about the Cora Ball, Rachael Miller, co-founder of Rozalia Project said, “This is a consumer solution for people to be part of by throwing it in their washing machine.”

Help stop microfiber pollution with every laundry load  introducing  the Cora Ball

Help stop microfiber pollution with every laundry load, introducing, the Cora Ball
Cora Ball

The Cora Ball is made entirely out of recycled plastic and is recyclable itself. Ways to upcycle or recycle the fuzz it collects are still being explored, but for now, microfibers are better left in the trash rather than the nearest body of water.

The company claims the Cora Ball removes up to 35 percent of microfibers from a washing machine load.

Kirsten Kapp, a biology professor at Central Wyoming College, who has studied microfiber pollution on the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest said both products are bringing microfiber pollution to the attention of the public, and that is a good thing.

“We are learning more and more every day about the risk that microfibers and microplastics have in our aquatic habitats and wildlife species,” Kapp said. “I think it’s something people should be aware of.”

Cost of products online
The GUPPYFRIEND™ Washing Bag can be purchased online from Patagonia for $29.95.

With the Cora Ball, you can find the real product on E-Bay for $24.99, however, there are a lot of knockoffs and other similar products with prices ranging from $5.00 on up. And they all claim to do everything from removing lint to “decontaminating” your wash.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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