Metro Vancouver is aiming to get Lower Mainland residents to clean up their laundry by going cold.
The regional government says that each time you do the laundry, the fabrics shed tiny fibres into the water, contributing to the hundreds of tonnes of microfibres released into rivers and oceans every year.
“Microfibres are tiny pieces of plastic that can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Once these pieces are in the environment, they carry toxic chemicals up the food chain — first they get ingested by zooplankton, which in turn get eaten by fish and so forth, impacting progressively larger animals,” said Richard Stewart, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Liquid Waste Committee, in a news release. “Thankfully, we’re learning that small acts can have positive impacts, like washing your laundry in cold water. Warm and hot water causes clothes to break down more quickly than cold water, increasing the shedding of microfibres.”
Microfibres are pieces of fibre — less than 5mm in size and thinner than a human hair — that are shed from fabrics when they are washed. Many microfibres are made of synthetic materials and are basically tiny pieces of plastic, but natural materials (like cotton) also shed microfibres when washed. While all fabrics, whether natural or synthetic, shed fibres in the wash, synthetic microfibres are one of the largest sources of microplastics pollution in the world’s oceans.
“The science around microfibres is still emerging — Metro Vancouver is collaborating with Ocean Wise, UBC and others to better understand how this type of pollution affects ecosystems and what may be done to address it,” said Sav Dhaliwal, chair of the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors. “Currently, pilot testing has shown that washing in cold on shorter cycles reduces microfibre shedding by up to 50 per cent.”
Metro Vancouver is part of the Microfiber Partnership, a research initiative that brings together researchers, the apparel industry and governments, and is supporting the development of standardized methods to quantify and track microfibres in wastewater.
Visit switchtocold.ca to learn more.