Every household washes some 70 million microscopic fibres into the ocean every week which affect flora and fauna – and the Plastic Soup Foundation wants everyone to do something about it.
Foundation founder Maria Westerbos is in Malta to attend the Our Ocean conference currently being hosted in Malta, and she is keen to see what the European Commission strategy will be before launching the next phase of their campaigns to clean the ocean of plastic.
Unlike many other entities which focus on clearing plastic from the sea and shore, the Plastic Soup Foundation prefers to tackle the source and works with 90 non-governmental organisations in 38 countries.
These fine fibres are worrying: they work their way into everything
The Dutch NGO now employs 15 people and manages to keep its independence from governments and industry through donations and EU funds, explained Ms Westerbos – who left a 25-year television career to set up the foundation. “If you want to make a change, you have to go for it.”
She was inspired by Charles Moore, who was sailing across the Pacific Ocean in 1997 and was appalled by the plastic he saw in the sea, not only floating but also being carried by a water column, a phenomenon which he called ‘plastic soup’.
When plastic degrades, it rel-eases toxins, which work their way into the food chain. Some 80 per cent of the plastic rubbish in the ocean is dumped by industry or households.
Her first campaign was on microbeads, and the foundation started by highlighting how much plastic there was in the bathroom.
“People were aware of the plastic there was in packaging but what they did not realise was more companies were bulking their products with plastic, as it was cheaper than other additives. Mothers were horrified to think their family was brushing their teeth with plastic, and we really hit a raw nerve. Within three months, the campaign had spread around the world,” she said.
The foundation then managed to tap into €1.3 million in EU funds to tackle another problem: synthetic fabrics and composite materials like cotton-polyester discharge plastic fibres less than a millimetre in length into the water when they are washed. They are so fine that they go right through wastewater treatment plants. The aim of the Mermaid project was to reduce the fibres by 70 per cent.
The first job was to work out how bad the problem really was, which previous studies had not managed to do in as much detail. The team managed to count the fibres, each of which is thinner than a hair, shed by various kinds of clothing.
“These really fine fibres are very worrying, because they work their way into everything,” she said. “It is very difficult to convince the fibre industry, textile manufacturers and fashion designers to take notice; we need better yarn and better filters.
“But money always seems to win over health issues.”
|What can you do?
The average wash releases 20 million fibres but you can reduce this quite easily:
- Wash full loads as the less friction there is, the fewer the number of fibres released.
- Use liquid detergent rather than powder as it is less abrasive
- Use fabric conditioner as it stops fibres from being broken off the fabric
- Lobby industry to do something about it
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