How many microplastics enter the environment through everyday processes? And what can we do about this?
We address this question in more detail in our research and education projects on water without microplastics and micropollutants. The status today is and will be in the future: Microplastics have been found all over the world, from the deepest depths to the highest heights. We also find microplastics and soluble polymers in our food, on and in our clothing, and in our washing and cleaning substances.
Microplastics in the environment and on our plates is already an issue that affects us all. But it is a topic that still requires more data and more transparency. While on the one hand people's insecurity is growing, politics in terms of laws and regulations are faltering.
We would like to make our contribution to speeding things up and providing political decision-makers with the basis for passing regulations and laws, but also to provide commercial companies with more options for action.
Microplastics are a global challenge that needs all actors. We expand our operations. What counts is the approach, "Together for water without microplastics and micropollutants". Thanks to sponsoring and donations, we can begin working on two new research projects. The complete financing of the research specifications is not yet available. However, we are curious and thus start on our own initiative.
If you are interested in seeing results faster, support us. With us, everyone becomes part of the solution.
Research project 1: How many microplastics are produced when washing textiles?
Synthetic fibers also release small plastic particles and fibers during the washing process in washing machines. The abrasion particles are negligibly small and pass through the lint filter of the washing machine and enter our sewage treatment plants. There, they are currently only partially removed (heavy plastic particles); they cannot be completely filtered out.
The wastewater containing microplastics leaves the three cleaning stages of the municipal sewage treatment plant and brings the microplastics into our rivers, lakes and seas.
There they break down into even smaller parts (keyword nano plastics), which attract pollutants and bacteria and cannot be broken down. Microplastics thus penetrate our water cycle and also become part of the animal, plant and human food chain.
The microplastic quantities are currently only estimated or derived from too few data sets. We are not satisfied with this data basis and over the next 12 to 24 months we will get to the bottom of the research question in more detail: how many microplastics from textiles enter the wastewater, or to put it another way: What is the impact of a retrofitted filter in the washing machine on the total microplastic pollution in our environment?
We have received a new washing machine from Beko Grundig Deutschland GmbH for this purpose and will use an extensive study matrix and our microplastic detection method to more precisely analyze how the use of detergent, the choice of washing programs (temperature, spin speed, etc...) affect the microplastic releasefrom textiles (laundry). We will gradually publish the data and associated recommendations received and present them in our blog.
Research project 2: How much microplastics are released into the environment from functional clothing during sport?
Both purely synthetic functional clothing and mixed fabrics with a corresponding proportion of cotton contain synthetic plastic fibers. The market share of these microfibers in global fiber production is around 74 percent; therefore, apart from pure cotton or other natural products, plastics are always processed in a large part of our clothing and are potential sources of microplastics.
The amount of fibers released during washing depends, among other things, on the processing and design of the fabric, but also on its composition: Pure acrylic or polyester releases more microplastics in a normal wash cycle than polyester-cotton blends, and fitted sheets shed fewer fibers than fleece jackets.
But what is it like when we do sports?
Whether cycling, jogging, or playing football, functional clothing items are available for many different types of sports that can improve the sporting results and make them resistant to various weather conditions. The special membranes protect, breathe and compress. The high-tech fibers are woven and processed depending on the area of application. The goal is always: They should be light, elastic, UV-resistant, dirt-repellent, and thermoregulating. Protection against the cold is important to prevent muscles from cooling down and thus prevent injuries.
In most cases, our functional clothing has a polyester or polyamide content. Polyester is considered a light all-rounder. After finishing, the synthetic fiber ensures good thermal insulation and is therefore used as a lining in winter jackets. Sportswear items such as tracksuits, track pants and jerseys that have a higher polyester content are more dimensionally stable, durable, and wrinkle-free. Polyester is breathable and ensures good ventilation of the skin.
The polyamide fiber is considered abrasion-resistant, which is often referred to as nylon, perlon, or kevlar. The material’s strengthsinclude tear resistance, elasticity, and abrasion resistance. The polyamide fiber is preferably combined with other fabrics to obtain different material properties in one piece of clothing. For example, the combination of polyamide and polyester or cotton leads to an increase in wearing comfort. Polyamide is very light and is strong when wet or dry. Compared to polyester, it has better stretchability.
In the coming months, we will analyze what exactly happens to the materials and to what extent microplastics are released from functional clothing when we do sports (e.g. jogging, cycling). Our microplastic detection method will be methodically adjusted, and we will use our enthusiasm for sports to measure emissions. We are very curious how many microplastics we will find. As always, we will publish the results and use our blog to document the progress of the project.