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Science

We're Eating Plastics From Our Own Dirty Laundry (vice.com) 172

Every time you wash your fleece jacket or other synthetic clothing, microscopic synthetic fibres are released and end up in our food supply and drinking water. From a report: These microfibres are so small -- visible only under a microscope -- that they bypass municipal filtration systems and are consumed by fish and other marine life. A team of women from Waterloo, Ontario is looking to solve that problem. They've designed something that looks a lot like a dryer sheet for your laundry machine. You'd be able to drop this reusable sheet, called PolyGone, into the laundry machine with your dirty clothes. It attracts and traps the microfibres so they can be recycled. They presented their work at the annual AquaHacking conference at the University of Waterloo on Wednesday. "With these fibres entering our food system and ending up on our plates, we are essentially eating polluted laundry," said co-founder Lauren Smith at the conference. The event saw five teams, including hers, compete for tens of thousands of dollars and entry into several local incubators and accelerator centres. Smith has a Masters degree in sustainability management from UW, specializing in water.
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We're Eating Plastics From Our Own Dirty Laundry

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  • by michiganbob ( 1136651 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @02:27PM (#55197759)
    Are these microscopic fibers detrimental? The article doesn't mention any health risks, just that they are ending up in the water supply. I would like to know what it is we're panicking about.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Obvious corporate shill is obvious. This is the greatest health menace since dihydrogen monoxide!

    • Exactly... What is the health issue here?

      I'm not saying there isn't one, I'm just interested in why this is a problem. I've seen at least two news stories about this now and neither of them have any information about what the alarm is really about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysidia ( 191772 )

      My suspicion is they're benign and that this is a well-known phenomena, or rare, but it upsets people concerned about the idea of "un-natural" or "synthetic" things making their way in their food source.

      Otherwise: Wouldn't this discovery have been its own article and study LONG before someone was working on developing a product?

      Maybe the findings about microfibers are specifically being printed to create demand for a product.

      Also; it's not a very practical product..... sure you may FILTER your own laund

      • Assuming this is important and the product works, then they can have a post-filtering stage at the sewage treatment plant where the clean water discharge first goes through a giant, turbulant vat stirring up many sheets of this stuff. That would be an extremely-fine-particle filter.

        When a centralized design doesn't work, distribute. When a distributed design doesn't work, centralize. When both are practical and functional, take a layered approach.

        • Assuming this is important and the product works, then they can have a post-filtering stage at the sewage treatment plant where the clean water discharge first goes through a giant, turbulant vat stirring up many sheets of this stuff.

          These aren't washer sheets, they're dryer sheets. Imagine the local water processing plant with a huge dryer where they have hundreds of these sheets in a big hot rotating tub and they spray water into it and it "dries". Hey, you don't need the sheets at all if you are going to distill all your outgoing waste water!

          When a centralized design doesn't work, distribute.

          Uhhh, the problem with this solution is that polyester clothing is almost dry when it comes out of the spin cycle of the washer, and it is a waste of time to run it through a dryer in the first p

          • These aren't washer sheets, they're dryer sheets.

            ... I mean. I just have to now.

            The issue is polyester fibers getting into the water because they pass through the filters at sewage treatment plants. They don't get into the sewage system from your dryer; they get into it from your washing machine. How in the hell would the point-of-use for these things, thus, be the dryer?

            It says they're dryer-sheet-like, not that they go in the dryer.

            The rest of your ramble is also pointless and disconnected.

            • My Bad. The summary called them a dryer sheet, and then said they went in the laundry machine. Ok, the local water treatment facility having a big washing machine for the water isn't as stupid as having a big dryer. But it would be a lot smarter to have a fixed filtering system, which would then be clogged up by all the other particulate matter that is still in the water. Face it, the water in your washing machine is distilled compared to what a water treatment plant gets to handle.

              So, overall, it is stil

              • The problem is the stuff coming out of the sewage treatment plant apparently still has these tiny fibers coming out of it. There's been a lot of proposal about throwing these sheets in and removing them at the source (decentralized); it makes more sense to force the clean-water discharge through an additional filtration stage.

                We have filters for laundry water discharge (lint traps), but they've proposed this thing instead. I assume this means something about turbulence increases the likelihood of captu

      • My suspicion is they're benign and that this is a well-known phenomena, or rare, but it upsets people concerned about the idea of "un-natural" or "synthetic" things making their way in their food source.

        Actually it seems this has been an area of study for a few years now:

        http://system.suny.edu/system-... [suny.edu]
        Microplastics affect different aspects of the environment. They can affect fish, birds and other wildlife who may ingest the plastics, causing internal blockage, dehydration and death in these species.

        Microplastics can also transport other pollutants. They absorb pollutants already in the water, such as DDT, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). When ingested by wildlife or humans (either directly or indirectly), these plastics contain high concentrations of these dangerous toxins which can become even more concentrated and dangerous as they bioaccumulate in the food chain.

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]
        Public health impact of plastics: An overview
        2011 Sep-Dec

        I guess microplastic fibers are different than microplastic beads, and maybe definitive, specific studies haven't been published yet. But, logic would say they probably have the same ill effects. I do agree I'd wait for the studies before passing laws. But nothing wrong with have a product ready to solve the problem.

  • That sheet is great and all but how do we get it to be used on a large scale? We have a hard enough time getting people to believe that significantly altering our planet's atmosphere is a bad thing, how are we going to get people on board with this?

    • Yeah maybe look to use this methodology in the water treatment plant instead...
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Are you saying the idea is full of sheet?

    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      ...how are we going to get people on board with this?

      We aren't.

      • We aren't.

        Because it is a waste of electricity to machine dry polyester or fleece, so the most environmentally conscientious people will not be using a dryer anyway. The only people who would use such a thing are those weak minded people who are scared because someone told them they are "eating their dirty laundry".

        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          Or maybe some one out there thinks eating plastic isn't desirable but still enjoys the conveniences of modern technology?

          How absurd!

    • The first step is to provide undeniable proof (which the deniers will deny).
  • Mmm more fiber than a bran muffin.
  • Plastic is not inert, It really should not be used for food packaging. It leeches chemicals into your food - the worst of which is plasticizers which make plastic soft (vs. the old brittle plastics of the 60's) plasticizers mimic hormones (which regulate most of your autonomous functions) this can screw up many of the normal functions in your body, in addition to causing cancer.

    http://www.salon.com/2005/05/27/plastics_and_boys/

  • by Zephyn ( 415698 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @02:55PM (#55198041)

    To think that Don Henley was right all this time...

    "You don't really need to find out what's going on.
    You don't really want to know just how far it's gone.
    Just leave well enough alone. Eat your dirty laundry"

  • Don't the two both just pass through your digestive tract and on out? I don't see the big deal - if it just passed through and isn't getting absorbed or cause problems, why worry about it? Or is there some confirmed research that shows it's a problem somehow?

  • Synthetic Sheep? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @03:17PM (#55198215) Homepage Journal

    > your fleece jacket or other synthetic clothing,

    Fleece's come from sheep.

    • > your fleece jacket or other synthetic clothing,

      Fleece's come from sheep.

      Only the natural fleece comes from sheep.
      There is also artificial fleece.
      Any material that behaves like the natural fleece (or more specifically its source) won't be a problem; your body processes things like that and they will pass ...usually at night.

    • Re:Synthetic Sheep? (Score:4, Informative)

      by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @03:44PM (#55198405)

      Fleece's come from sheep.

      Traditionally, yes. Here's a more modern type [wikipedia.org], likely the one TFA is referring to:

      "Polar fleece is used in jackets, hats, sweaters, sweatpants, cloth nappies, gym clothes, hoodies, blankets, and high-performance outdoor clothing. It can be made partially from recycled plastic bottles and is very light, soft, and easy to wash."

    • Fleas come from stray dogs. FTFY.
  • by DaHat ( 247651 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @03:41PM (#55198381) Homepage

    Not researchers, or scientists, or even interested persons... But simply 'women'. Are we to assume then that their primary qualification is their gender? (Yes I would have the same beef if it had been written as 'a team of men')

  • Why not sell the technology in bulk to municipal water treatment facilities and let them remove the plastic microfibers before the water is discharged? They already have to deal with the issue of biosolids from wastewater. They would be more apt to recycle the end product as opposed to home users who would be more likely to throw them away than to recycle them.

    LK

  • Make a filter for the water company itself. It could be paid for via the utility bill/tax (depending on how your water is handled). It seems like it would be far more effective than making each person have to buy a filter.
  • As we all know, you can make compostable and biodegradeable furniture from vegetable matter, and even print it in 3D printers. It's not difficult to make vegetable matter biofilm solids to replace much plastic usage, in terms of plastic bags, plastic wrap, shipping foam, etc. Then this problem disappears, other than for those resins used for microfleece.

    But even microfleece can be replaced by vegetable based bioplastics.

    If it's for fashion, having something that only lasts a few times becomes less of an is

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Thursday September 14, 2017 @07:21PM (#55199735)

    They need a solution for municipal water systems so all the plastic from everybody gets trapped in one place.

  • Not only is it dangerous for the environment but also for your body. These microfibers get lodged in your skin and absorbed, increasing risk of cancer. Stopped using them and never have used any on my son. Sucks because sometimes we have to make our own clothes but whatever. Worth it.

    • Good on you for making your own clothes but how would they get absorbed through the skin? If they're that small I'd expect any lodged in the outer skin to get sloughed off with all the regular detritus your skin traps and sloughs.
      • When you're sitting on them all day or wearing tight clothes or sleeping in them, I imagine the dust-sized pieces can easily do so, not to mention the chemicals they are treated with such as flame retardants, Teflon, formaldehyde... And when all these are absorbed through the skin it bypasses the liver

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