The #1 Source Of Microplastics In Water Is Laundry Lint

If you’ve ever cleaned off the lint screen on your dryer as you’re getting ready to dry a load of clothes, you probably never thought that the lint you so casually tossed away into the garbage could be contaminating the water supply, but it turns out that laundry lint is actually the single biggest source of microplastics in fresh water, according to Mother Nature Network:

“According to new research, 60% of the microplastics in our fresh water come from laundry fibers. When we wash our clothes, towels and sheets, microfibers break off and wash away. They make their way into wastewater treatment facilities and from there, to lakes and other large bodies of water.”

Penn State Behrend chemist Sherri Mason notes that while it surprises many people to learn that lint is such a problem, it make sense:

“‘I was surprised although, like, you kind of go ‘Oh I really shouldn’t have been. Because we all clean out our lint filters on our dryers. We should be like, ‘Oh of course if it’s coming off in the dryer that whole process is starting in the washer.'”

Mason did an extensive study of the issue, and the results were startling:

“(She) analyzed 90 water samples taken from 17 different water treatment facilities across the U.S. In her report, which was published in American Scientist, Mason found that each facility was releasing an average of more than 4 million pieces of microplastics into waterways every day. Of those microplastics, 60% are fibers from clothing and other fabrics. A little over a third are from microbeads — tiny plastic specks used in personal products, that were banned in the U.S. in 2018. The remaining 6% are from films and foams.”

There are approximately 15,000 wastewater treatment plants in the United States, but they were designed to filter out urine, fecal matter, and dangerous microbes. None of them were meant to remove plastics, especially something as tiny as microplastics. While studies suggest that most treatment facilities do manage to remove somewhere between 75% and 99% of microplastics, that still means that billions of microplastic particles still manage to make it into the fresh water supply, and even into the water we drink and serve our families. A study from earlier this year found that Americans eat, drink, and inhale at between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic particles each and every year.

Mason’s research confirms what was reported recently by WBUR:

Microfibers are tiny strands of plastic that shed off synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. Scientists have discovered that they are one of the main causes of plastic pollution in the oceans, says Peter Ross, vice president of Ocean Wise in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“’When we first started looking at microplastics in the ocean, we didn’t have any idea of what we would find,’ he says. ‘And when we looked under microscopes, we saw a variety of different shapes and sizes and a whole variety of colors, and some of these look like little particles or fragments and others looked like fibers.'”

What can the average consumer do? Mason says information is power, and that’s the ultimate point of her research:

“The plastic we use ultimately comes back to us in the food we eat and the water we drink. Although this is scary and a bit distressing, it also means we can make positive changes.”

Featured Image Via Wikimedia Commons 

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Andrew Bradford

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