Your Laundry is Polluting the Bay

Your Laundry is Polluting the Bay Microfiber Image
We are living in a material world, and the consequences are not pretty. Recent research reveals that every time we wash our clothes, we are all polluting the Bay.

Half the clothing on the market is made of synthetic material derived from plastic (acrylic, nylon, spandex, and polyester). One item of synthetic clothing can produce up to 1900 microfibers per wash. These microscopic fibers pass through filters at water treatment facilities, ending up in the Bay and then the ocean.

The San Francisco Estuary Institute determined that the San Francisco Bay is the most plastic-polluted body of water in the country. Water samples from the South Bay contain 2.6 million microplastics of 5 mm or smaller per square mile compared to 285,000 in Lake Erie, the most polluted of the Great Lakes.

Mark Browne’s research reveals high amounts of microfiber pollution near sewage outfalls in densely populated areas. These toxic fibers are swallowed by fish that could end up on your dinner plate. Solutions to this problem are difficult and costly, requiring new filters at water treatment plants and switching all synthetic materials to natural and benign alternatives.

To reduce your own microfiber pollution, choose organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo clothing.

Plastic Pollution Roundup

Plastic Pollution on Malaysian beach
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Preventing trash from flowing into San Francisco Bay has been an ongoing battle with a repeat offender: plastics. Save The Bay has worked with local communities to ban plastic bags, Styrofoam, and tobacco litter, as well as calling to attention the harmful effects that toxic trash poses to our waterways. Here are several posts that show how far we’ve come in the fight against plastic pollution, and what you can do to help restore the Bay’s health.

The Plastic Trash You Don’t See by Allison Chan

Trash—plastic in particular—remains a very visible pollution problem in our local creeks and along the Bay shoreline. But it’s the plastic you don’t immediately see that’s the latest cause for concern. A recent study determined that billions of tiny pieces of plastic currently pollute the Bay, more than any other major water body in the country.

Bay Pollution and the World’s Oceans by Daniel Adel

While Save The Bay advocates for a healthy Bay, plastic pollution contributes to a global trash problem. Toxic plastic trash can make its way from our streets into our waterways and ultimately out into the ocean via the Golden Gate. Now consider the geography of our region – a heavily populated metropolitan area surrounding the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas – and you can imagine the scale of this issue.

How Beth Terry Kicked the Plastic Bag Habit by Beth Terry

Before June of 2007, Beth Terry lived the plastic lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of consumption, enabled by convenience, and seduced by low cost. Products are inexpensive because they are not designed to last; they are packaged so that they can wait indefinitely on store shelves. But we’re not paying the full cost of this lifestyle.

5 Reasons Why You Should Kick the Plastic Water Bottle Habit by Erin McMullen

We all have bad habits. They are little things we know we shouldn’t do, like buying water in plastic bottles. We tell ourselves it’s just this one little bottle, but every one adds up, and plastic water bottles are so ingrained in our society, it’s a hard habit to break. Despite spending an average of a hundred dollars a year on plastic bottles, plastic bottle users prioritize convenience over doing the right thing.

Do you want to stop trash from flowing into the Bay? Sign the Zero Trash pledge to eliminate polluted runoff in our waterways.

Good riddance to microbeads

Artwork by first grader Johanna N. courtesy of the  NOAA Marine Debris Program

It’s hard to muster a lot of sympathy for the plastics industry. Especially if you know anything at all about the vast islands of plastic debris that foul our oceans. Or if one of those heart-wrenching photos of a baby sea turtle entangled in trash makes it into your Facebook feed. Or if you take just a moment to think about all the toxic, plastic pollution entering our food chain.

The industry would have us believe the blame falls squarely with consumers. After all, we buy this stuff, we toss it out, and—let’s be honest—most of us don’t do everything we can to make sure it ends up recycled or in a landfill instead of the ocean.

But then there are microbeads—those pointless plastic particles used in personal care products, that pretty much have no reason to exist. Who was the jerk who came up with this idea? What was the pitch in the boardroom? “So, we don’t have any reason to think people actually want plastic nubbins in their soap and toothpaste, but let’s put it in there and call it an innovation. In fact, let’s put 350,000 pieces of polyethylene in every bottle of face scrub we sell, and sit back while this stuff washes down millions of drains and into the environment.”

Thankfully, not everyone is so cavalier, and last month the California Assembly passed legislation banning plastic microbeads in personal care products sold in California. If signed into law, AB 888 would be the strongest protection in the country against these frivolous pollutants.

That’s important, because while the particles are tiny, they accumulate in huge numbers. An estimated 470 million are released into San Francisco Bay every single day, where they bind with other environmental toxins and appear as food to wildlife, polluting our food chain.

It’s easy to get riled up by water bottles, disposable bags and identifiable consumer junk that pollute our ocean, because we can see those things. And the companies that make this stuff can try to put all the blame on consumers, as if they have no responsibility for the life cycle of the products they create. But Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste (a sponsor of AB 888) put it best when he said:

“If a manufacturer tried to dump 40 tons of plastic pollution into the ocean, they would be arrested and fined for violating the Clean Water Act. But these cosmetic and soap makers are doing the same thing on a daily basis with billions of plastic microbeads washed down millions of drains.”

It’s worth noting that some companies have pledged to phase microplastics out of their products, but many producers are still using them. And even if the bill is signed into law, the ban doesn’t go into effect until 2020.

That leaves enough time for 771,975,000,000 microbeads to pour into our Bay. So in the meantime, how about we all just agree to stop using this stuff now?