A team at the University of Plymouth, in the UK, spent 12 months analyzing what happened when different synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines, using different combinations of soap. The conclusion is that each washing load may release 700,000 microscope plastic fibers into the environment.
With that in mind, windsurf teacher Rachael Miller, who also studied underwater archaeology, developed a device she baptized “Cora Ball,” a small ball made of a 10-centimeter diameter recycled rubber, whose shape emulates that of marine corals.
The small ball works capturing fibers that detach from clothes during the washing process, in the same way corals capture particles. Small fabric fibers entangle in the rubber structure and may be removed later, separating waste from running water that is added in the end of the wash. All that’s necessary is to throw the Cora Ball into the machine before starting the washing cycle.
According to the researcher, if 10% of US households used Cora Ball, we could keep the plastic equivalent of over 30 million water bottles from washing into our public waterways every year. If these much plastic bottles were lined up, it would be enough to go from New York to London, on the other side of Atlantic.
The route of fibers in the water
The microfibers that detach from clothes during the washing end up in household wastewater that then flows to wastewater treatment plants, where some of the minuscule plastic scraps are captured. The problem is that a big part of microfibers remains in the water, which ends up in streams and rivers and, ultimately, flows into the oceans. This waste is estimated to comprise 85% of human waste in all coasts of the world.
In addition to the obvious water pollution effects, which may cause disturbances, diseases and injuries to animals and human beings, studies allege that this type of pollution may be inserted into the food chain and be present in fruits and leaf vegetables, as well as in fish, that often serve as human food.
This impact is not entirely understood yet, but it’s known that small particles, spheres and fibers may be mistaken for food and ingested by some marine species, causing suffering and decline in diversity and contamination of the food chain.
Published 07 January 2018