Blue jean microfibres polluting the planet just like plastics

A new study has revealed that fragments of the world’s most popular fabric can now be found in the remotest parts of the planet in a similar fashion to minute plastic particles from polyester and similar clothing.

In 2012, Danny Miller, an anthropologist concluded that half of the global population were wearing jeans at any one time. This squares up with recent surveys in North America. Jeans are the most popular item of clothing globally. They are made of chemically treated cotton and when jeans are washed they shed between 50,000 and 60,000 microfibres which end up pretty well anywhere and everywhere including the oceans and the seas.

Blue jeans pollute the environment widely
Blue jeans pollute the environment widely. Image: AHR based on screenshot of images presented by Google Images.

It is suggested that people should wash their jeans less often in order to help curb this new form of pollution. The research has been published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. They checked the sediment taken from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Laurentian Great Lakes and suburban lakes in southern Ontario which are shallow. At least 90 percent of the man-made particles found in those lakes where microfibres.

The study was led by Samantha Athey of the University of Toronto. Microfibres from bluejeans accounted for 20 percent of the microfibres in Arctic sediment. Bluejeans are one of the world’s most popular garments and she has shown us for the first time that they have a huge geographic footprint. She concluded that the so-called natural microfibres are more common than their synthetic variety.

It was also found that a type of fish caught in Canada’s Great Lakes, the rainbow smelt, had these fibres inside their digestive tracts. The microfibres from jeans accounted for 23 percent of the microfibres found.

The microfibres from jeans are treated with chemicals to die them and to make them more durable. The scientists don’t know the effect of these chemical substances on the environment and wildlife. Further research is clearly required. Jean microfibres are made from cellulose and take months to break down said Andrew Johnson a professor at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. He was not involved in the study.

The colder the environment the slower the degradation, he said. Although the cotton treated fibres break down faster than plastic. For example, polyethylene has a half life of hundreds of years.

There are calls by Friends of the Earth for the government to amend the Environment Bill with “legally binding targets for waste and resources including microfibre pollution to transform our throwaway society into a circular economy that’s fit for the future” – Sion Elis Williams.

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