It seems harmless enough. Sitting down in the basement or hiding away in a laundry closet the washing machine seems an unlikely villain. Yet it is the culprit responsible for the transfer of countless millions of tiny strands of plastic to our oceans and lakes. Shaken off of our clothing, these small pieces of clothing are washed away from our homes to begin their journey to the World Ocean.
These microfibers belong to a group of pollutants called microplastics which are less than 5mm in diameter. Microfibers can also be made of cot- ton or wool. Regardless of whether they are natural or made by industry, these microfibers are being ingested by humans and other forms of life all over our planet.
Scientists are just beginning to understand some of the effects that these pollutants can have on living organisms. Even though all the evidence of the potential harms that these microfibers can do is not quite in, it’s safe to say that keeping pollutants out of our waters is the logical and sensible thing we should be doing.
Sometimes we just can’t wait for all the data to come in.
One example of taking action against a perceived threat even though a perfect evidence trail is not available was the signing of an international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol which took place in 1987. An in- ternational agreement was signed which outlined specific steps to be tak- en to protect the planet’s ozone layer.
This agreement highlighted an approach to remedial action based on sci- entifically informed decision making with a major emphasis on using the precautionary principle. This means using a cautionary approach before leaping into new technologies or maintaining questionable practices that are doing harm to our planet’s biosphere.
It’s for this reason that we should take immediate steps to enact policies to require filters be put on all washing machines. It is a widely accepted fact in the scientific community that waste water treatment plants are only cap- turing a portion of the microfibers that pass through their facilities.
Having filters on our washing machines to capture the wash lint is an im- portant step we should take now to help restore our waterways. Although some washing machines do have built in filters, it’s time for mandatory fil- ter requirements for all washing machines. (Filter links below)
There has been some resistance from appliance manufacturers due to cost concerns but the cost of not acting will ultimately be much greater. As a society we need to remember that water is indeed life. Over 99% of the livable space on this planet is water. Over 70% of the human body is made of water. We have a vested interest in keeping it clean.
Protecting our water should be a responsibility we embrace not only be- cause we are looking out for ourselves but because we understand that clean water nurtures all life on this planet and helps sustain a healthy biosphere for future generations of all forms of life.
Below are some links to explore:
Short film highlighting some of the issues discussed above:
Short film about microfibers: The Story of Microfibers
Tedx Talk with Sarah Dudas, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
Legal Efforts Ontario Can Emulate and Enhance:
Shoreline Cleanup Info:
Visible Mending: A World To Mend