Poll finds lack of awareness over plastic pollution from clothes washing

Almost half of people do not know plastic microfibres are released from the clothes wash (Yui Mok/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Almost half of people do not know tiny plastics known as “microfibres” are released in their clothes wash and can end up in food, a survey suggests.

Some 44% of people do not realise that synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester or acrylic are plastics, or that plastic microfibres are released from clothing when they are washed, the poll for green charity Hubbub found.

Around two in five of those quizzed by Censuswide did not know microfibres from clothes could wash into rivers and oceans, and 44% were not aware they could end up in the seafood people are eating.

The awareness of microfibres and where they end up is much lower than for “microbeads”, another type of tiny pieces of plastic found in products such as sun cream and cleaning liquids.

Yet more than a third (35%) of tiny pieces of plastic or “microplastics” which go into the oceans come from washing textiles, and studies have found them in foods from mussels and table salt to honey and beer, Hubbub said.

There are concerns that plastic microfibres can absorb toxic chemicals and could have an effect on health, although the long-term health impacts of the fibres has yet to be fully established.

The survey also found 69% of those quizzed were concerned about the impact microfibres were having on ocean life, and 56% were concerned about the fact they or their family might be eating them.

Hubbub has released the findings of the poll of 2,000 people on World Environment Day as it launches a #whatsinmywash campaign, giving tips to consumers to reduce the impact of their wash on the environment.

It is also calling for industry to tackle the problem, from looking at better filter systems in water treatment plants and washing machines to producing clothes which are less likely to shed the tiny fibres.

Trewin Restorick, chief executive of Hubbub, said “Plastic microfibres are ending up in our waterways, ecosystems and in our food and drink and we don’t yet know what impact this will have.

“The issue is complicated and the messages are confusing.

“Our research suggests that levels of knowledge and awareness around microfibres amongst the public are low, so today we’re launching some clear actions that consumers can take to help reduce the amount of microfibres released from household washing.”

He added: “It is critical that more is done to explore the potential impact on our health of eating food that contain these plastic particles.”

Tips to help reduce the impact of microfibres from clothes washing include:

1. Buy higher quality clothes which are more durable and you can get more wears from;

  • Wash clothes only when they need to be washed, and air them instead in between;

3. Wash clothes at lower temperatures (30C), which means they will wear less fast and reduce the release of microfibres;

  • Use a full load and wash on a shorter, gentler cycle to reduce friction on clothes and therefore the shedding of microfibres;

5. Avoid the tumble dryer, as it wears out clothes and increases the likelihood microfibres will be released in the next wash;

  • Do not empty liquid from a condenser tumble dryer down the sink as it may contain plastic microfibres.