While microplastics have been garnering world-wide attention for their adverse impacts on the marine environment, another invisible threat continues to remain invisible to the global community- microfibers.
This topic of “Microfibers- Background, Concern and Solutions” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
What are microfiber?
- Microfibers are microscopic pieces of fabric, usually less than 5 mm. These are released from all types of clothing- natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic.
- These fibres are released during washing. These gets flushed down the drain and eventually reaches the beaches and oceans.
- Several factors influence microfiber shedding from textile laundering:
- Washing temperature
- Drum speed
- Water volume
- Detergent type
- Load capacity
- Washing machine type
- Textile design
- Textile quality
- Use of dryers (can release microfibers directly into the air), etc.
- While microplastics have been garnering significant attention, their semi-synthetic and natural counterparts have emerged as equally worrisome pollutants.
Why is it an issue?
- The current wastewater treatment systems are unable to efficiently address this concerning pollutant. Hence, they find their way directly into the aquatic environment, especially through sludge applications and landfills.
- Natural and semi-synthetic microfibers are also a source of concern because of their tendency to release dyes and other chemicals.
- Upon entering the ecosystem, these invisible pollutants threaten the growth and reproductive capabilities of a range of organisms.
- These microfibers can enter the food chain and pose a hazard to human health as well.
- Considering India’s significant population, the use of washing machines by even a small percentage of the population contributes significantly to microfiber pollution.
- Also, considering the burgeoning textile industry and the fast fashion culture have been pushing an unsustainable consumerist culture. This use-and-throw culture prioritizes quantity over quality, leading to cheaper textile designs, compromised fabric quality and surplus production.
- The unsustainability of the sector is further aggravated by the rapid urbanization, increased purchasing power, growing GDP and brand penetration in the market.
How can it be addressed?
- As we diligently launder our clothes, we fail to realize the pollution resulting from this seemingly mundane task.
- India’s rules, regarding textiles and plastic waste management, are yet to recognize the significance of microfiber pollution. It is high time that appropriate regulatory framework is put in place.
- Addressing this issue requires sustainable solutions such as:
- Curbing microfiber shedding from textiles
- Use of front-load washing machine
- Use of liquid detergents
- Washing on full load at colder temperatures
- Use of normal drum speeds
- Use of tools like guppy friend bags and cora balls
- Use of natural air drying for laundry
- Investing in external washing machine filters and subsequent sustainable disposal of the microfibers, etc.
- However, these solutions can only reduce the microfiber shedding levels. More comprehensive steps are required.
- Other steps like proper labelling of textile products to raise awareness, introduction of novel CSR strategies, etc. can also help.
- Recycling and thrifting need to be popularized among the Indian populace. This will reduce overexploitation of resources and limit mass production.
- Some countries, like France, have already put in place rules mandating washing machine brands to have inbuilt filters and its associated sustainable disposal mechanisms by 2025.
- Several multinational brands have started recycling trash textiles into different products.
- Going forth, addressing this issue will help India achieve SDG targets including plastic pollution reduction, marine conservation and sustainable consumption.
Microfibers are one of the many invisible pollutants that are harming the environment alongside the well-known pollutants like microplastics. The Indian rules are yet to recognize and reflect the dangers posed by the fibres. It is high time to adopt a multifaceted approach to addressing this invisible issue.
Practice Question for Mains:
Why are microfibers a cause for concern? How can it be addressed? (250 words)