Tag Archives: pollution

Washer Pollution: Microfibers

Trillions of pieces of tiny fibers are flowing into our oceans every time we use our washing machines. Synthetic fabrics release microscopic threads of plastic. Our clothing is breaking down in the wash releasing this plastic micro fiber that drains out with the wash water. Just one fleece jacket can shed over 81,000 fibres per wash. University of California found that older fleece can shed twice as much as newer fleece. This minute fibers travel from our homes to our local waste water plants where up to 40% are not captured or filtered out, so instead they make their way to our oceans.

According to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that microfibers pollution has significantly more that previously calculated. It is estimated that 15% to 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by household and industrial products, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea. The IUCN  calculates that 35% of this microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles. Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.

Mark Allen, a research associate at the University of New South Wales, in a 2011 study found microfibers mad up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.

Other studies conclude micro fibers can be up to 95% of microplastics found and sampled in ocean and fresh water ways.

One problem is that use of synthetic textiles is drastically increasing.

Another problem is that plastic fibers have the potential to poison the food chain. While fibers are small, they are big enough for persistent organic pollutants (DDT, PCBs) to stick to them. One in 3 shellfish; 1 in 4 fin fish and 67% of all species tested from fish markets in California had microfiber or microplastic in them; a direct link to the human food chain (Rochman, 2015).

We need to radically rethink the way we manufacture and use what we wear but until we find solutions to eliminate this source of pollution we can be more mindful of what we buy and how often we wash.

Cigarette butts – time for producer responsibility?

Is it time the tobacco industry takes responsibility tobacco product waste?

Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded waste product in the world, and almost 6.3 trillion cigarettes were consumed globally in 2012. Observational studies and self-reports by smokers suggest that from one to two-thirds of the butts from smoked cigarettes are tossed by smokers into the surrounding environment, buried in landfills, or dumped into storm drains.

In 2015, 409,417 cigarette butts were picked up in The Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up, cigarette butts topped the list of items in the litter collected. According to the Litter Reduction Taskforce Cure Litter  Canadians drop 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts each year — the majority within a mere 10 feet of an ashtray.

Keep America Beautiful reports that Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes than ever before, yet cigarette butts continue to be the most commonly littered item in the United States and around the world today. They specify two reasons for this statistic — lack of awareness on the smoker’s part, and the lack of availability of waste receptacles at “transition” locations, such as outside stores and other buildings, and at public transportation pickup spots.Cigarettes contain 7000 chemicals, and many of them, such as ethyl phenol, heavy metals and nicotine, are themselves toxic. At least 50 are known human carcinogens; others have been found to be toxic to marine and freshwater organisms, and toxic to humans and animals. Chemicals are added to cigarette paper to control the burn rate, and calcium carbonate is added as a whitener, in part to create an appealing ash as the cigarette burns. Studies conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways have shown that just one cigarette butt in approximately two gallons of water is lethal to water fleas, a tiny crustacean found in fresh water and saltwater. And, tiny bits of tobacco that are invariably left attached cigarette filters carry more toxins than the filters do themselves.The core of the cigarette butt is made up the part that looks like white cotton, is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate. By itself, cellulose acetate is very slow to degrade in our environment. Cellulose acetate fibers in a cigarette filter are thinner than sewing thread and a single filter contains more than 12,000 of acetate fibers. Depending on the conditions of the area the cigarette butt is discarded in, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose.

Cigarettes are both a health hazard and an environmental hazard. Nicotine is an addictive substance. There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today, and if current trends continue, that number is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025. Cigarettes are a problem that cannot be ignored.

Governments have started to address the health impacts of smoking by banning smoking in public places and some provinces have attempted to sue large tobacco companies for health costs associated to tobacco use. Health warnings are printed on packages.

Health organizations are promoting “reduce and refuse” behavioural change for use of these hazardous products. For those addicted to nicotine there are many smoking cessation programs offered by government agencies and private facilities.

There can be no debate that the impacts tobacco is costing big dollars.

Kelley Lee, who holds a Canada Research Chair in global health, co-authored a new study that suggest that we need to go upstream to the source of the problem – the tobacco industry. The paper, published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control, sets out a regulatory scheme as model legislation for adoption by cities, provinces or countries. It was designed in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based Cigarette Butt Pollution Project. The study proposes the tobacco industry take on the collection, transport, processing and safe disposal of butts, based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility, which would incorporate the environmental cost of butts into the price of cigarettes. The paper suggests companies take responsibility in various ways including taking on the cost of collecting, recycling or disposing butts, initiating cleanup programs and informing consumers about the environmental risks of tossing butts.

Other industries that produce hazardous consumer goods are already legally responsible in a patchwork of legislation across North America for dealing with paints, pesticide containers, fluorescent light bulbs and unused drugs. It is time for the tobacco industry takes responsibility.

Extended Producer Responsibility legislation for tobacco products in Canada would help in healing the toxic legacy of tobacco.