What are microplastics? And why are they used in laundry detergent?
Laundry detergent was only available as a powder when it first appeared in our homes. However, since 1984, it has also existed in liquid form, which is much easier to handle, can be used for pre-treating stains, dissolves much quicker, and leaves no powder streams on clothes.
Did you know that 49% of all liquid laundry detergents, and about 77% of powder laundry detergents, contain micro-plastics? These are mostly based on petrol and obviously not biodegradable.
Synthetic polymers, the most common form of microplastics, are used in laundry detergent. They reduce the foam and ensure the dirt is eliminated more efficiently.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny fragments of any type of plastic, smaller than 5 mm. They are invisible to the eye. Microplastics are classified as either primary or secondary. Primary microplastics are produced and intended for external human use, while secondary microplastics occur because of the breakdown of large plastic debris.
Why are microplastics so dangerous?
They are indigestible and non-biodegradable. They can break down into molecules, but it takes hundreds or thousands of years for them to decompose, and in the meantime, they harm the environment.
Do you know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The patch covers a territory three times the size of France, or 1.6 million square kilometers. In total, there are about five plastic accumulation zones in the world. This one is the largest and is situated between Hawaii and California. It consists of at least 80,000 tonnes of plastic debris floating freely in the ocean. Experts estimate there are about 1.8 trillion plastic pieces, which is about 250 pieces of plastic for every human on Earth. The waste is in all levels of the ocean, including the ocean floor. The waters below the surface are also filled with waste. The debris consists of abandoned fishing nets and plastics of all sizes like bags, six-pack collars, bottles, packing straps, and much more. 94% of the debris consists of microplastics.
The discarded fishing nets are death traps for fish and smaller animals. A recent study concluded that 84% of the debris contains toxic chemicals that cause internal injury, or even death, upon digestion.
The patch also impacts fisheries and aquaculture, and governmental clean-ups are estimated to cost from $6 to $19 billion every year.
It is currently impossible to completely eliminate these patches because microplastics are invisible to the eye, and the bigger plastic trash disintegrates but doesn’t disappear. Fishing nets and larger plastic parts can be removed from the surface, but below the surface, it becomes much harder to do anything without harming aquatic life.
What can we do?
Make better choices – choose refillable glass containers instead of plastic containers.
Check ingredients - many cosmetic products, including shampoo and conditioner, contain microplastics.
Try to avoid buying synthetic clothes – with each wash, the clothes shed microplastic fibers that end up in wastewater and, ultimately, the sea.
These are just a few things you can do. Check out our article about how to reduce your plastic consumption for more inspiration.
So, what should you look out for when buying laundry detergents?
Checking the label is not an easy task, there is still not enough transparency on which ingredients are to be listed, and most of the harmful ingredients hide behind complicated names.
Here a list of ingredients considered to be microplastics:
PE – Polyethylene
PP – Polypropylene
PET – Polyethylenterephthalat
PUR – Polyurethane
EVA – Ethylen-Vinylacetat-Copolymer
AC – Acrylates Copolymer
ACS – Acrylates Crosspolymer
P-7 – Polyquaternium-7
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