When it comes to ocean pollution, we all know some of the most notorious culprits, like six-pack soda rings and foam packing peanuts. Plastic odds and ends have been collecting over decades to form the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, a floating mass the size of Texas. But the latest threat to marine life identified by scientists comes from a very unexpected source: home washing machines.
An international team of researchers who studied “microplastic” contamination along 18 coasts worldwide recently concluded that waste water from home washers was the likely source of the pollution. (Microplastic is defined as pieces smaller than 1 millimeter.) In their article published this month in an environmental science journal, the scientists said that more than 1,900 fibers can rinse off a single garment during the washing cycle and end up in sewage. These bits of polyester and acrylic contain potentially harmful ingredients that fish can consume and then pass on to people who eat them.
It just goes to show you that human activity can impact the environment in many unpredictable ways. You may have thought that your energy efficient washing machine, which uses a minimum amount of water and spins at the highest speeds so you don’t have to run the dryer as long, was the ultimate ecological clothes washing solution. But despite our best ecological efforts, this is yet one more reminder that we are all so linked to our planet that we can’t escape impacting it in some way.