Plastic pollutes the North Pole

It is shocking to read in The Times that microplastic pollution has found its way into the Arctic Ocean, a place which should be pure. The destructive behaviour of humankind extends into the four corners of the planet. Nothing is sacred. Scientists have found that on average there are 40 plastic particles of 5 mm or less per cubic metre of sea water in the oceans. Microplastic pollution is nearly always made up of synthetic fibres (92%) and of these synthetic fibres 72% is polyester.

Measuring plastic in the oceans
Measuring plastic in the oceans. Photo: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) calculate that more than 9 trillion microfibres per week could be released by UK washing machines. The society is calling for the UK government to make it mandatory for all washing machines sold from 2024 to have a microfibre filter built into the machine. France passed a law requiring filters to be fitted to washing machines from 2025.

The Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a rather noncommittal statement in which they said that manufacturers should “harness the latest technology to protect our marine environment. We are keeping the compulsory fitting of microplastic filters under close review.”

I find that, as I said, noncommittal and rather feeble. There’s no reason why they can’t make it mandatory and give the manufacturers a few years to sort themselves out. Governments need to do much more, in a much more vigourous way, to protect the environment. It is shocking that the oceans of the planet are pretty well totally polluted with plastic. These tiny particles are getting into fish and shrimp and then into humans when we eat this marine wildlife. We are poisoning ourselves. Surely that must be a reason why urgent action is required?

The study which produced this shocking data was by the Ocean Wise conservation association in Vancouver and the Canadian government’s Institute of Ocean Sciences which said that the Artic Ocean had a “inherent vulnerability” to micro plastic pollution.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications. There is concern, too, about the Inuit people who rely heavily on fishing in the Arctic Ocean. There have been calls to retrofit microplastic filters on existing washing machines. I can’t see why third parties can’t do this and get on with it. It’s time to take steps with commitment and vigour.

According to a study by the University of Plymouth, filters on washing machines can cut the number of fibres released into drains by almost 80%. They tested six devices with filters at various places in the machine including inside the drum or to filter wastewater. The least effective method was a mesh bag for clothing which captured only 21% of microfibres. The best was a filter trapping wastewater which removed 78% of the microfibres. The manufacturer, Xeros is in talks with washing machine manufacturers. They expect the device to add £30 to the cost of a new machine.

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