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Clean Laundry is a Good Thing. Right?

Are We Literally Washing Micro Plastics Into the Sea?

 
My daughter came home from her high school Environmental Science class last year talking about plastic fibers released when we wash our fleece. She said they are part of the ocean plastics problem, showing up in seafood we eat and even in our own bodies. Sounds like the plot from a bad horror movie. I have been in denial ever since. Give up straws? Sure, but give up my beloved fleece, a mainstay of life in the Pacific Northwest? Please, no not that. So when asked if I wanted to write a blog for our volunteers, I was ready to dive in and learn more about this topic. Without going too far down the internet rabbit hole, here is what I found out.

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Ocean Wise’s Plastic Lab, a research arm of the Vancouver Aquarium, has been studying microplastics since 2014. Here are the highlights from studies they have conducted that were reported in a February 2019 Patagonia blog post.

A study of seawater from off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, found that over 70% of all plastic particles were fiber shaped. Other researchers studying the Atlantic Ocean report that fibers comprise 90% or more of the microplastic particles found. In such large numbers, and because these fibers are so small, they are a threat to marine life that mistake them for food.

In Spring 2018, Ocean Wise partnered with Patagonia, Arc’teryx, REI, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), and Metro Vancouver to begin a multi-phase research program to investigate the sources of synthetic microfiber pollution, and to identify the best science-based solutions to the problem.

wash test

The study found that textiles shed between 31,000 and 3,500,000 fibers per load during normal laundering in household washing machines. Not all textiles shed equally. For example, ‘fluffy’ textiles like fleece, as well as textiles made of spun staple yarns and textiles pre-treated with brushing are the highest-shedding types. Some fabrics shed a large amount during the very first wash, and then shed little.

 The laundry study was carried out with commercial-grade test washers that simulate a cycle in a typical home washing machine. Photo: Mathew Watkins

 

fabric swatch testData from the laundry study and the weathering study was used to create a reference library of spectra and a shedding catalog for the most common textiles used in outdoor apparel, a valuable resource that may help researchers to identify microscopic textile fibers and trace pollution back to its source.

 Katerina Vassilenko from Ocean Wise's Plastic Lab stands next to fabric swatches tested in the weathering experiment. Photo: Lorand Szasz

 The Ocean Wise researcher’s reported that the differences in shedding rates between textile types and over time provides opportunities for manufacturers to modify practices to reduce microfiber pollution.

A 2016 study reported in the journal Environmental Science & Pollution looked at the amount of fiber released when washing and drying new fleece blankets. They concluded “that cumulatively large quantities of microplastics are released into the environment from this source.” In addition, they reported the following results:
 
“Results confirm domestic washing of textiles and garments as a constant and widespread source of plastic microfiber emissions into the environment.” They found that the first washing released the most fibers by a factor of 2-3 times. After 7 washings the amount of the fiber release leveled off. “A key result of this study is the indication that fibers are emitted throughout the lifetime of the garment.”

“Release of fibers during tumble drying was approx. 3.5 times higher than during washing. However, dryers have built in filters.”

“These results show that installation and maintenance of a relatively simple and robust filter to washing machine wastewater could prevent most of the emissions.”

“Previous studies have shown that the majority of fibers released during washing are removed in wastewater treatment plants where these are used. “

The final study I am sharing results from, Rochman et al, investigated the presence of microplastics and fibers in fish and shellfish sold for human consumption in Indonesia and California.

 For the California samples, “of all species purchased, anthropogenic {human caused} debris was present in the gut content of eight (67%) of all fish species sampled, including jacksmelt, Pacific anchovy, yellowtail rockfish, striped bass, Chinook salmon, blue rockfish, Pacific sanddab and lingcod and in the Pacific oyster. Within each species, we found anthropogenic debris in 29% of jacksmelt, 30% of Pacific anchovies, 33% of yellowtail rockfish, 43% of striped bass, 25% of Chinook salmon, 20% of blue rockfish, 60% of Pacific sanddabs, 9% of lingcod and 33% of Pacific oysters.”

”All anthropogenic debris found in fish from Indonesia was composed of plastic, whereas in fish from the USA only 20% of anthropogenic debris found in fish could be confirmed as plastic. In contrast, the majority (80%) of anthropogenic debris found in fish from the USA was composed of fibers from textiles."

The authors suggest this is due to differences in waste treatment practices. In Indonesia, large of amounts of waste is dumped directly into the sea and presumably includes a large portion of plastics. In California, “there are more than 200 wastewater treatment plants discharging billions of liters of treated final effluent just off shore." ”Even though treatment results in a reduction of many contaminants, synthetic fibers from washing machines can remain in sewage effluent, and may be delivered to aquatic habitats in large concentrations via wastewater outfalls. One study found one fiber per L of wastewater effluent.”
 
Take Away
One component of microplastic waste in the environment are fibers from our synthetic clothing. They are not captured completely by wastewater treatment plants and they have been found in fish and shellfish. What level of threat the fibers pose to the sea life that ingests them and the humans that in turn ingests the seafood has not been fully determined. The fibers pose both a potential physical hazard in the digestive system as well as being a source of hazardous chemicals that have an affinity for attaching to the surface of plastics.What We Can DoTo reduce the amount of plastic fibers released by your washing process Oceanwise recommends that you:

The Sierra Club website has these helpful suggestions:

  • A German company has created a laundry bag you place your fleece items in that is designed to trap microfibers during washing -  the GUPPYSAFE washing bag
  • Consider items made with fabrics treated for odor control that require less washing. (I know - this raises issues about what chemicals are they being treated with.)
  • Choose natural fiber clothing instead such as wool, down, leather, cotton and other non-plastic textiles.

Sources

Teaming up to get to the bottom of microfiber pollution. Stephen Chastain.  1 Feb 2019. https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2019/06/what-were-doing-about-our-plastic-problem/Your fleece jacket pollutes the ocean: here’s the possible fix. Catherine O'Connor. Outside. 25 May 2017. https://www.outsideonline.com/category/clothing-apparel
 
Are we eating our fleece jackets?: microfibers are migrating into field and food. Jessica Boddy. NPR. 6 February 2017. 1:21 PM ET. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/161357412/food-for-thought
 
Emissions of microplastic fibers from microfiber fleece during domestic washing. U. Pirc & M. Vidmar & A. Mozer & A. Kržan. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 22 September 2016

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308491550_Emissions_of_microplastic_fibers_from_microfiber_fleece_during_domestic_washing
 
Anthropogenic debris in seafood: plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bi- valves sold for human consumption.  Rochman CM, Tahir A, Williams SL, Baxa DV, Lam R, Miller JT, Teh FC, Werorilangi S, Teh SJ (2015). Sci Rep 5:14340.
https://www.nature.com/articles/srep143405 Ways to dress cozy without shedding so many microfibers: how to prevent your outerwear from polluting waterways with plastic. Fink, Bill. Sierra Jan/Feb 2019.
https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2018-1-january-february/gear-guide/5-ways-dress-cozy-without-shedding-so-many-microfibers


The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches and Skagit County Solid Waste. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.

Understanding Disposable Products

& How Compostable are Compostables?

October 2019 - by Callie Martin,

Waste Reduction Recycling Education Specialist, Skagit County Public Works

plastic utensils    bamboo utensils     

compostable bowl        compostable cup          

You’ve likely been here before: Wearing the organizational badge of honor, you’re charged with the task of purchasing dishware, cups, and utensils for a family reunion, club picnic, or work event. With so many disposable options to choose from, how do you decide what to buy? Let’s walk through this together.

Traditional Plastic

The main offender of disposability is petroleum-based plastic ware. These items have been sold for several decades and include Styrofoam cups, plastic cold cups, straws, plastic cutlery, and lids for paper coffee cups. Nothing from this group of serviceware can be recycled. Currently, the best place for most of these items after single-use is the trash can. Best efforts for reuse could be washing them to use at another time, though they are less durable than other materials.

Compostable Plastic

   biodegradable cutlery comp plast cup   

A bit tricky to decipher from traditional plastic, compostable or plant-based plastics were all the rage beginning in 2010. Compostable plastics come in the same forms as traditional serviceware, and today there is a compostable plastic alternative to just about any traditional plastic item you can find. Many thought compostable products might end the destructive impacts of plastic pollution, and create a less wasteful disposable option for activities on the go.

An important characteristic of compostable plastic is that it is meant to break down in an industrial-scale composting facility, rather than a backyard compost pile. This is because a typical backyard compost pile does not grow hot enough to break down the chemistry of compostable plastics.

If you have access to a collection bin that is hauled to a composting facility, compostable products are an acceptable alternative to traditional plastic. However, we have a second caveat at play. Industry studies have found that many compostable plastic serviceware items do not break down fully during the industrial composting process. Bits and pieces of compostable plastic are found floating about the finished compost. The impact of this lowers the market value for finished compost products, and deteriorates the future success of community composting systems.

While compostable to a certain degree, nothing in the compostable plastic family is recyclable in the blue curbside bin. Combined with the confusing fact that these products look a lot like traditional plastic, compostable plastics aren’t the obvious answer to plastic pollution we were hoping for.

Wait though, compostable plastic MUST be better than traditional plastic. Right? It is true, when compostable plastic enters as litter into the environment it does have an easier chance of breaking down without adding as much pollution as traditional plastic. Letting it out of our hands and into the environment without proper disposal has never been the goal though, and shouldn’t be something to bank on.

If you find yourself heading in the direction of purchasing compostable plastic for your next event, be sure to use the following guidelines:
 

  • Purchase compostable plastic if the only other option available is traditional plastic.
  • Make sure any compostable plastic purchased is ASTM 6400 or ASTM D6400 Certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. This guarantees is can break down fully in an industrial-scale composting operation.
  • Be sure you have access to municipal composting in the form of a curbside green cart or yard waste pick up service.
  • Check with your local industrial composting facility to verify that they accept compostable plastics for composting.
  • In Skagit County, yard waste carts are hauled to Skagit Soils, where compost is made on an industrial-sized scale. Currently, compostable plastics are not accepted for composting at Skagit Soils or anywhere in Skagit County.

 

 

Compostable Paper

Since soiled or dirty paper cannot be recycled, it is often a great option to compost it instead. There are an array of compostable paper products out there for use at gatherings and events. In order to be composted successfully, paper serviceware needs to be unlined. This means no thin, traditional plastic liners on the tops or bottoms, or around the inside of the paper. Though regular bleached paper can be composted without much consequence, the gold-star standard for compostable paper serviceware would mean the products were not only unlined, but also unbleached. Compostable paper products do eliminate the issue of plastic pollution entirely, as they compost very effectively using industrial composting methods. It is important to remember that paper products do have a significant impact on the environment through natural resource use. When trying to move away from plastic, compostable paper products offer a good transition.

Follow these guidelines if you want to host your next event using compostable paper products:

  • Paper coffee cups are often lined. Be sure to purchase only those treated with polylactic acid (PLA) as the form of liner, as it can be fully composted. Eco Products offers a variety of options for PLA lined compostable paper products.
  • Ideally, look for unbleached paper products. These will usually be brown in color, rather than white. If brown can’t be found, white is okay too!


Bamboo & Wooden Products

Another disposable alternative you may have placed on your radar are wooden or bamboo products. These items are often one hundred percent compostable, and offer a good alternative to both traditional and compostable plastics. Compared to other large-scale crops, bamboo comes out ‘greener’ than most with regard to the overall environmental impact. A fast growing grass, it requires no fertilizer and self-regenerates from its own roots, so it doesn't need to be replanted. The downside to bamboo and wooden serviceware are that they are often expensive. Greenwave, Bambu Veneerware, and Green Paper Products offer bamboo options.



Washable & Reusable

The best thing to do for Mother Earth is to avoid disposable options for serviceware altogether.

 

      ceramic mugs

 

Washables do take resources to create, and use water to clean, but after a certain amount of uses create little to no additional pollution. When choosing what to buy, talk to other organizers. Purchasing washable plates, cups, and silverware may actually prove less expensive over time. Consider hosting gatherings or meetings in a space that already has washable dishware available to borrow, like a church or community center. Come up with solutions for dishwashing, or better yet, have everyone invited to the event bring their own plate, mug, and silverware from which to enjoy the meal. This creates a larger sense of community, and sometimes even a way to meet new friends!

 

Beyond the Bin!

New Guide Helps Move On Those ‘Hard-to-Recycle’ Items

beyond the bin cover 7 29 page 01          beyond the bin cover 7 29 page 42

Ever wish you could recycle those old electronics, packing materials, paint, Styrofoam, rubber, tires, lightbulbs, batteries, chemicals, cell phones, eyeglasses, hair (seriously), or used cooking oil? Look no further than the new Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide. This tidy little booklet has done much of the work for you, compiling scores of places to recycle those “hard to recycle” items or find a home for things that have outlived their usefulness to you.

Speaking of recycling plastics. By now we all know only limited types of plastics are accepted for recycling in traditional recycling programs. In Skagit County, curbside recycling and drop-off at the Skagit County recycling sites now only accept clean bottles, jars, jugs, and tubs. Easy right? For these programs, it’s the SHAPE of the container—not the number in the triangle—that’s important.

But gosh, you want to recycle other plastics too! Of course, you do. And Beyond the Bin tells you where you can take those other types of plastic, such as plastic packing materials, plastic film, and even the dreaded Styrofoam. For packing materials, Postal & More (Mount Vernon), The Mail Box (Anacortes), and the Sedro-Woolley City Recycling Center are the places to go. Styrofoam is not as easy to recycle locally, but for intrepid recyclers, Styro Recycle Inc. in Renton, The Big Guys in Woodinville, and the Recology Store in King County accept Styrofoam for recycling.

But we’re not just talking plastics here. The guide helps you recycle non-plastic items, too. It clears up all those questions about which battery is which and which is recyclable (why does it have to be so complicated?). Also, find out where you can recycle tires, appliances, electronics, all those myriad lightbulbs, even all half-used crayons, and many more items. And it lists neighborhood cleanup days and all the county and city/municipality drop-off centers for things like hazardous waste disposal, large item recycling, and yard waste.
 
Electronics. Did you know that Americans throw away 2-3 million tons of electronics a year! Computers, TVs, and other electronic equipment contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials that should not go into a landfill. Under Washington’s E-Cycle law, recycling is free for televisions, computers, laptops, monitors, tablets, E-readers, and portable DVD players. Check out Beyond the Bin for recycling locations near you!
 
Zero Waste, here we come! Did you know that recycling options are required at every official gathering and sports facility in communities where recycling services are available to businesses? So, next time you’re planning an event, make it a Zero Waste happening! For Skagit County Guidelines on planning waste-free events, visit the Skagit County Zero Waste webpage

But, why bother? Here’s why—recycling the plastic we use is a critical piece of the solution to the hazards of ocean plastics. Recycling also reduces global warming, saves money, and conserves landfill space. And, it’s simply the right thing to do. Now, the new Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide makes it easier.  

And, there’s one more step you can takethink before you buy . . . opt for products with minimal, recyclable, or no packaging. Ask yourself if you really need (fill in the blank), if an item can be repaired, repurposed, or passed along to someone else. There are many ways to recycle. Some of the outlets in the guide that accept items to recycle may also be a source for buying gently used items instead of buying new.

Beyond the Bin Recycling Guide can be found online at the Friends of Skagit Beaches plastic reduction webpage or pick up a copy around town at locations such as public libraries, your municipal waste disposal and recycling signup desk, or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find a location near you. 
 
Sources:
Friends of Skagit Beaches Plastic Reduction webpage 
https://skagitbeaches.org/our-work/plastic-reduction.html
 
Skagit County Zero Waste webpage
https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Sustainability/ZeroWaste.htm
 
All about plastic film recycling
https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/
 
Planet or Plastic
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/

New Project: The Plastic Initiative (SPRRC) “Sparks” Plastic Reduction

Plastic pollution and its impacts on the marine environment is an important issue that seems to be in the news a lot lately.
Crafted, created, and led by board member Betty Carteret, Friends of Skagit Beaches’ newest project, Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition (SPRRC) received a $30,000 from the Department of Ecology in September 2018.

The objectives of the project:

- Raise awareness about harmful impacts of plastic waste

- Reduce the use of single-use plastics

- Promote lifestyle choices that will reduce harmful impacts of plastic waste

- Reduce contamination of the plastic recycling waste stream

Right out of the starting gate, the project established a working partnership with Skagit County Solid Waste Division. Callie Martin, Skagit County’s outreach specialist for waste reduction and recycling has provided insights, valuable information, and resources.

paula with bag at coop600Volunteer participation in the project exceeded expectations by more than double the 450 hours proposed in the grant application. As of the end of the grant period on June 30th volunteers had given over 1,000 hours of service to the project!

Over 1,300 community members were contacted and over 800 plastic reduction pledges have been completed. Pledge participants were sent a survey and results indicate that the messages shared in our outreach are making a difference and people are making positive changes to reduce their use of single-use plastics and also following guidelines for recycling more carefully.

Check out our other blog posts and the Plastic Initiative section to learn more about this project, plastic and what you can do to make a difference.

Would you like to get involved?
Contact Betty at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

WHAT DO OLD GUYS DO ON THE 4TH OF JULY FOR FUN?

picture6It was a cool mostly cloudy 4th of July morning when Pete Haase, Tom Flanagan, and I met at the March Point Park and Ride. Pete and I are members of the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve (FBAR) Citizen Stewardship Committee (CSC) and Tom is a super volunteer/citizen scientist. We were headed to Libbey Beach Park, a small Island County park just north of Fort Ebey State Park on the western shores of Whidbey Island. It is part of the Smith and Minor Island Aquatic Reserve (SMIAR), an area that spans 36,300 acres of tidelands and seafloor habitat and includes the largest bull kelp forest in the State of Washington.

 

Today we were doing what any red blooded old white guys do on the Fourth of July, we werepete and wayne and kelp going to help a couple of young ladies, Jamie Kilgo and Cassidy Johnson from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with a kelp harvesting study. Pretty much what everybody does on the 4th of July, right? The goal of their study is to gather information about harvester practices and evaluate potential impacts of harvesting on the intertidal kelp community. Kelp is a broad term used to describe a group of brown macroalgae species common to our Salish Sea rocky shores, including the iconic bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana). Kelp forests, as they are known, are extensive underwater (most of the time) “factories” that convert solar energy into food and protective structure for many of its inhabitants, like invertebrates and fish, including juvenile salmonids. They are vital to a healthy intertidal and subtidal ecosystem.

wayne and kelpAlthough Tom and I are experienced citizen scientists, neither of us had experience with these types of studies. We are both former engineers so almost impossible to train! Pete was an “old hand” having been out on the beach with Dale Fournier, FBARCSC member, and Jamie a few weeks earlier. By some miracle, Jamie and Cassidy were able to quickly teach us (the tide would soon be coming back in!) how to identify, measure, and record data on these amazing macroalgae in a very short time. Proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Although we were noting and recording the presence of several types of kelp, our focus was on Alaria marginata (winged kelp) and Saccharina spp. (sugar and split leaf kelp). These species are the preferred targets for the recreational harvesters.

One of the things that makes the beaches along the west side of Whidbey perfect for supporting large kelp beds but extremely difficult to walk (better to crawl!) are the large boulders that litter the beach. Kelp attaches and anchors itself to the rocks so as not to be swept away by winter storms or strong tides. Once anchored solidly to the sea floor, the kelp forests absorb significant amounts of wave energy thereby slowing beach erosion.

These studies actually started back in 2015 when members of SMIAR and other local environmental groups began observing and recording spatial and temporal harvester patterns, measuring the wet weight of harvester buckets, and conducting harvester interviews at Libbey Beach. Since 2017, the DNR led by Jamie Kilgo and her team, has been conducting a harvest method impact study.

One of the outgrowths of the work by volunteers and DNR is a harvester outreach and educationkelp diagram program. Interpretative signs were developed and installed a few years ago. Harvesters are provided information on the best method to harvest kelp so that it can survive and re-grow. It turns out the methods used to harvest kelp are critical to sustainability. If the stem is cut too close (generally less than 12”) to the holdfast, it is not able to regenerate and/or reproduce. Not a good thing if we want sustainable kelp forests!

As we finished up and headed home for a “normal” 4th celebration, it reminded me that the actions taken by a small group of engaged local citizens can make a big difference toward protecting our rich marine environment.

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