Article - The River Blog

Microplastics in our rivers

Author: Jeanette Dyson
Categories: Plastic pollution, Special interest

Microplastics. What are they? How do we prevent them?

Research conducted by the University of Leeds earlier this year, found that water treatment plants were contributing 75% more microplastics being found in rivers in the north of England. One of the rivers sampled was the River Calder, where large amounts of these microplastics were present in the waterway. The River Holme flows into the River Calder, so it’s reasonable to presume that microplastics are a problem in our local rivers.

Although the majority of the microplastics found in this study were put down to industrial waste and plastics breaking down in the water treatment plants, clothing fibres were a large contributor.

What are Microplastics and where do they come from?

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. They come from a variety of sources but are mainly found as tiny beads in beauty products, fragments of clothing and broken-down plastic flakes from packaging.

What impact do they have on the environment?

The microplastics found in rivers flows down-stream and into our oceans, where they can be ingested by fish and other marine life. The fear is that microplastics will enter the food chain and be present in food we eat.

Lead author of the study, Dr Paul Kay, said: “These tiny plastic fragments and flakes may prove to be one of the biggest challenges in repairing the widespread environmental harm plastics have caused.”

Microplastics are difficult to remove due to there size and are becoming a huge problem for the environment. Dr Paul Kay suggested that improving the water treatment plants and the way they deal with microplastics is one way in which the density of these material can be improved.

In a recent study it was found that 828 microplastics were present in the bodies of fish and crustaceans. Tiger Prawns and Bartail Flathead are just a few of the animals that contained microplastics in large quantities. This is worrying evidence that microplastics may be flowing from our rivers into the oceans and finding there way into our food chain.

5 tips to limit your microplastic impact

We are all responsible for keeping our rivers healthy and pollution free. Here are a few things we can all do to reduce our microplastic output.

  1. Buy non-synthetic eco-friendly clothing such as SLOactive who create non-synthetic swimwear whilst utilising grassroots activism and partnering with charities to raise awareness about plastic pollution and what we can do to stop it.
  2. Wash clothes on lower temperatures. Lower temperatures are less aggressive on fabric meaning fewer fibres are released and saves you money on energy bills.
  3. Air dry clothes rather than using the dryer. Tumble dryers are aggressive on clothes, resulting in more fibres being released. Air drying is gentle on clothing and saves you money.
  4. Use a washing ball or bag. Coraball have created a washing ball that captures most of the microplastics released from clothes. The ball is easy to clean, durable and fully recyclable.
  5. Fill the drum. Even something as easy as filling the washing machine means fewer fibres are released. It also means fewer washes, saving money on energy costs.

You can read the full study here

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