New deep sea research shows tiny plastic fibres are a big plastic pollution problem

New research from the University of Manchester has found that tiny plastic fibres, microfibres, are a big contribution to ocean plastic pollution.

The study analysed deep sea sediments from the Tyrrhenian Sea, which forms part of the Mediterranean Sea. Samples taken from the seabed found that fibres make up the majority of all microplastics found, in some cases fibres account for 70-100%. Researchers also found the world’s highest concentrations of microplastics recorded so far globally: up to 1.9 million pieces of microplastics per square metre.

Microfibres - Social

Microplastics and microfibres are so small and hard to see that they’re often forgotten when we talk about plastic pollution in the ocean. However, textiles actually make up about 15% of the world’s annual output of plastic, according to the Plastic Atlas published last year. Around 65 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year for textile fibres! Some models have suggested that primary microplastics account for 15-31% of all microplastics in the ocean; rather than small pieces of plastic which have broken off of larger items (secondary microplastics), these are microplastics which were produced to be miniscule, such as microfibres for clothing.

When we wash clothing and textiles, we are contributing to microfibre pollution. Globally more than 840 million domestic washing machines are used, with one kilogram of washing able to release up to 1.5 million fibres. So, while the University of Manchester’s scientists describe this as a microplastic hotspot due to the deep sea circulation (the so-called Pacific garbage patch is also the result of plastic being concentrated by circulation), it is also an indication of the impact of not dealing with microplastic at source.

Combatting plastic pollution at source would mean ensuring microfibre filters are fitted to washing machines, which would help to dramatically reduce microfibre loss to the environment. So let’s get these filters fitted as soon as possible and make sure those hotspots don’t get even hotter!

Show your support by signing our petition to Stop Ocean Threads here.

Written by MCS Head of Clean Seas, Dr Laura Foster