From: Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)
Published June 26, 2017 11:32 AM

Microplastics from the washing machine

The presence of microplastics in our wastewater can be attributed primarily to two factors. Firstly, many cosmetic products, such as toothpaste, creams, shower gels, and peelings, contain tiny pieces of plastic in order to achieve a mechanical cleaning effect. Secondly, microplastics are washed out in the process of washing polymer textile clothing, and thus they enter our environment via wastewater.

Many researchers who have recently studied nanoparticles are now also investigating microplastics. They include Bernd Nowack, Edgar Hernandez, and Denise Mitrano (who is now working at the water research institute Eawag) from Empa's "Technology and Society" department. On the basis of their nanoparticle research, these three researchers recently published a first quantitative investigation of the release of microfibers from polyester textiles during washing, in the specialist journal "Environmental Science and Technology". In this study, the Empa team primarily investigated the ways in which washing agents, water temperature, and the number and length of wash cycles affect the release of microfibers.

A hypothesis that could not be confirmed

To date, the study is the most meticulous and systematic investigation of the release of microfibers from textiles that has ever been carried out. This applies both to the quantity of parameters investigated and to the characterization of the released fibers in terms of number and length. Nowak and his colleagues found out that the quantity of fibers released by five different washing programs was always more or less constant, while washing agents and detergents increased the quantity of microfibers released compared with "normal" water. However, washing temperature had no effect on the number of microfibers that Nowack's team subsequently found in wastewater.

Continue reading at Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)

Image Credits: Bernd Nowack

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