A human-scale solution to the biggest plastic pollution problem facing our ocean: Synthetic Microfibers

The single biggest plastic pollution problem facing our ocean is microfiber: trillions of pieces of tiny fibers flowing into the ocean – every time we use our washing machines. Our clothing is breaking up, sending this plastic microfiber out with the drain water – just one fleece jacket could shed over 81,000 pieces per garment per wash [source]. New York City, alone, could have 6.8 billion microfibers flowing into its harbor every day. We are all contributing to this problem.

Above, watch Rozalia Project’s Founder/Executive Director, Rachael Miller, present about the problem and our solution on the Idea Stage at the US State Department’s Our Ocean Conference, or read on for more information.

The mechanism for this pollution is our washing machines, and the source is our clothing. Here is why:

pat top

Red stripe shirt Fibers 100x002

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above left is a popular thermal top. It is made of 100% polyester. Above right is 3mm of that same top magnified 100x. There are millions of fibers per article of clothing that we wear. It breaks down while we wear it, it breaks down in the wash and it flows into our public waterways.

This is the next frontier of ocean pollution

The next area with emerging data that necessitates action and solutions. The reason you are just hearing about it, despite the fact that we have been wearing synthetic clothing for well over half a century and looking at the problem of plastics in our ocean for around a decade, is that the sampling methods being used to look for plastic in our ocean either use nets that are too big to catch these tiny fibers, or sorting methods that simply do not allow researchers to find them (sorting by eye or without enough magnification). To understand how small they can be, consider that a strand of hair is 70 microns wide, we can see down to 40 with the naked eye and a red blood cell is 8 microns. The plastic fibers that have been found in ocean samples and marine creatures are 60 down to 3 microns. Of the studies have been done collecting volume samples of water (in bottles, rather than nets), the results are more than alarming:

  • Of hundreds of samples taken worldwide, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, the organization with the largest data set on this topic, has found 90% of all of their samples contained microplastics (a broad heading that includes both plastic fragments and synthetic microfibers). Of those that contained microplastic, 89% of that were fibers and 11% plastic fragments.
  • Of the thousands of microplastics found in volume sampling in a NE Atlantic, a study found that 95.9% were fibers.
  • Of the thousands of microplastics found in volume sampling in a NE Pacific, a study found that 75% were fibers.
  • The photo to the right shows a 3mm section of microfibers filtered from the drain water of a standard load of laundry magnified 120x.

Why we care. This plastic ends up on our plates. Here it is in 5 facts plus one important bonus…

  • Microfibers are small, too small to see. They can be as small as 3 microns. Human hair is 50-100 microns. A red blood cell is 6-10 microns. The fibers we are talking about can be half the size of a red blood cell.
  • But, they are big enough for persistent organic pollutants (DDT, PCBs) to stick to them. This happens to plastics in the marine environment. They also have additives capable of leacing chemicals into our public waters.
  • They are ingested by sea creatures: whales to plankton. Ingested pollutants can unstick from the plastic and end up in the stomachs and tissue of those creatures. This can affect the tissue at the cellular level, causing cellular necrosis and/or inflammation & lacerations of the GI tract.
  • One in 3 shellfish; 1 in 4 fin fish and 67% of all species tested from fish markets in California had microfiber or microplastic in them; a direct link to the human food chain (Rochman, 2015). Even if you do not eat fish, cows, pigs and chicken are fed fish meal, carving another path to our plates.
  • A recent paper estimates that Europeans could ingest up to 11,000 pieces of plastic per year – through shellfish consumption. The same paper figured out that in a typical serving of 6 cultured oysters, you could be eating a serving of up to 50 pieces of plastic (L. Van Cauwenberghe, 2014). Another paper determined you could be eating up to 178 tiny pieces of plastic per farmed mussel (Mathalon and Hill, 2014).
  • Note: while we are gathering data on how microfplastics and microfobers affect sea creatures, we do not know the effect eating microfibers has on human health. That said, do you want our fish eating plastic? Do you want to?
  • Bonus reason: We have a collective need and responsibility not to pollute, not to fill our ocean and fish bellies with manmade objects of any size or any material.

This is not just about plastic

While most studies have looked specifically at microplastics and synthetic microfibers and their effect on sea creatures, all of our clothing is making microfibers. That includes cotton, wool, hemp, etc.  There are dyes and other chemicals associated with organic clothing as well as synthetics and for that reason, we need to stop all of this manmade fiber from entering our waterways.

There are no filter technologies currently available that will both stop microfiber pollution and allow water to flow at required rates. In addition, this is not a problem easily regulated away, like microbeads.

A World First

Rozalia Project has developed the world’s first consumer solution to stop microfiber pollution. Our patent-pending microfiber catcher is a human-scale solution, one that everyone can be part of simply by washing their clothes with the catcher in their washing machines – whether they are in a dorm, in a basement or at a laundromat.

Rozalia Project’s microfiber catcher works in any washing machine – top or front loader, old or new. Just throw it in. The catcher will collect microfibers as well as hair and prevent them from flowing out with the drain water.

This is the first of its kind solution and will make a huge difference protecting the ocean and protecting the human food chain. Early test results show Rozalia Project’s microfiber catcher keeping 2,000-9,000 pieces of synthetic microfibers from flowing out into our public waters ways per wash per household. Right now, an average family inadvertently sends the equivalent plastic of 14.4 water bottles into our public waterways per year via their washing machines. That is every household all over the world putting out plastic that is already small enough to be ingested by creatures of every size – many of whom will end up as Sunday dinner in those same households. Rozalia Project’s microfiber catcher has the potential to make more difference to ocean pollution than any other product or solution that exists today.

A true social enterprisegray glow cropped

Rozalia Project is the patent holder which means that sales of this product will support Rozalia Project’s work to clean and protect the ocean and to seek and develop innovations, like the microfiber catcher.

Our plan is to have this product available to everyone using a washing machine to wash their clothes by the spring of 2017.

To do that, we need your help. Here is how:

  1. Donate. Your contribution will support the research and development necessary to make the final adjustments to get this game changer to market.
  2. Share. Spread the word via social media, your own blog, to your friends and family. The more people who know about the problem of microfiber pollution and Rozalia Project’s microfiber catcher, the better!
  3. Stay in touch. Like us on Facebook, sign up for our newsletter, find us on the dock! You’ll learn about developments, offers and opportunities!

tbt-logo

2016 Think Beyond Plastic Innovation Competition: Winner – Microplastics

rozaliaprojectStop Microfiber Pollution