Plastic is a well-documented health concern. A Google search on the topic will turn up more than a normal human can digest, (pun intended), on the subject. Even a search of this site will show more than 20 articles on the health dangers of plastic, along with many more on the environmental damage plastic causes. Those articles have hundreds of total comments on them and many links in to them so this is a topic of interest to many. Concerns about plastic and human health and plastic and the environment are so well documented and publicized that it would be difficult not to know about it. Well, here is one more problem caused by plastic I suspect most people have never heard or thought of.
The lint discharged by our washing machines is likely causing human, animal, and environmental, health damage. That is not a typo; I do mean your washing machine. We all know about the lint you remove after drying your clothes in a heated gas or electric dryer. Lint also gets discharged by your washing machine during each load of laundry. Although this makes sense, it is something I have not thought of before. This lint includes much more than just the fibers from your cotton, wool, or other clothing made from natural materials. The lint discharged from a washing machine contains a lot of plastic residue from clothes made partially or totally from materials like rayon, nylon, polyester, spandex, etc. Most, if not all of these man-made fibers start as a liquid created from petroleum, just like plastic manufacturing. As such, these fabrics have the same health and environmental dangers as the plastic used to package consumer products and food. Here is another link to an article summarizing some of the health concerns caused by plastics.
How does your washing machine pollute the world with plastic? What happens is that these man-made fibers like polyester break down a little every time they are washed. These small, (some are even microscopic), particles are discharged with the water in the washing machine. The plastic goes right through our water treatment systems and is discharged into the environment. The plastic accumulates in the environment and food chain, causing toxic build up all the way up to fish, animals, and us!
Plastic has many well-documented health risks. There is direct toxicity, especially in the manufacturing process. There are carcinogenic compounds such as DEHP (Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) and BPA (Bisphenol A). One of the biggest concerns I have about plastic is its hormone disrupting properties. When it is affecting growth, sexual characteristics and fertility in fish, animals, and humans, plastic has an insidious and damaging impact on the health of all life.
Most of the dangers seem to come about when plastic is ingested so many people think: “What’s the problem? I don’t eat plastic!” The problem is that is wrong, you do eat plastic, a lot more than you might imagine. Just staying with the original subject of this post, you are today ingesting plastic that was discharged from someone’s washing machine. This plastic gets into the environment, accumulates in the food we eat, the water we drink, maybe even the air we breathe. Ultimately it finds its way into our bodies. Here is a link to a very interesting abstract of a research study that showed the extent of the accumulation of microplastics on the shorelines of the oceans. I am glad to see that the problem is attracting research attention, but what really can we do? I mean plastic is an unavoidable part of our lives now and is there really any hope of limiting our exposure? I think there is.
Research like the above study highlights a problem that can then be addressed with better technology in water treatment facilities. It may also lead to changes in how we manufacture and use plastic. Better containment of the plastic pellets used in manufacturing will help. Improved manufacturing systems can reduce waste in the production process. We can make a difference on an individual level too. Recycling as much plastic as you can reduces what gets into the environment. Buying local or in bulk can reduce packaging and shipping plastic. Again, getting back to the topic of this post, there is something all of us in the industrialized world can do to about washing machine lint too.
We should all learn how to use less laundry soap. Doing this will also save money as laundry detergent has become quite expensive, especially if you use the liquid soap free of dyes and fragrance. Many people think that if some laundry detergent gets your clothes clean, more will get them cleaner. This is not really true. I use about 1/4 the recommended amount of detergent in my laundry. My clothes come out just as clean as other family members who use much more. One of the way laundry detergent works is to break down the bonds of dirt with the fibers. This process also causes some damage to the fibers themselves. If you use less laundry soap, you will see much less lint in your dryer screen. It stands to reason there will be much less in your washing machine water also. I really recommend