Microplastics from textiles cause worry – this is what we can do
There is a lot of talk about microplastics at the moment and they cause concern for people primarily because they pose a serious threat to the world’s water systems and thus to animals and humans. In recent studies, microplastics have even been found inside human bodies, which causes further concern. Lindström’s customers are also concerned about microplastics, and from time to time we receive inquiries about how much microplastics our products release and how we are preventing them from ending up in water systems.
There is no precise information about the microplastic emissions of specific industry operators at the moment. There are also no reliable ways of analysing the amount of microplastics in the industrial washing process. According to current knowledge, textile services and the industrial washing process are not very significant sources of microplastics.
As a textile rental company, we think that we can generally affect the amount of microplastics in two ways. Firstly, we ensure that our textiles have a long lifecycle with our customers, as the amount of released microplastics is reduced the more the textiles are washed. Secondly, we closely follow the textile care process and ensure that emissions are always below the limit values. We are constantly listening to industry forums to receive new information from studies as soon as it is available.
Microplastics are released into water systems from various sources
Plastic is an important raw material which, however, poses a serious threat to the world’s water systems due to its prevalence and longevity. Microplastics refer to plastic particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm. Primary microplastics are particles that are manufactured for a specific purpose such as cosmetics and toiletries or as raw material for the plastics industry. Many EU countries have banned, or are about to ban, the deliberate addition of microplastics into products.
Secondary microplastics, then again, are released from other products during use. These products include plastic products, car tires and roads as well as synthetic textiles. When discussing clothes containing microplastics, fleece garments are often brought up. It is a positive phenomenon that clothes containing plastic fibres are being discussed because consumer awareness of the issue is increasing.
According to the Finnish Environment Institute, there is currently no detailed information about the microplastic emissions of various operators and production sectors. According to the European Textile Service Association (ETSA), current information suggests that textile services are not very significant sources of microplastics. However, the issue is constantly being studied and ETSA is also promoting research to increase knowledge.
This is what we can do: long-term use and efficient process monitoring
As a textile rental company, we can generally affect the amount of microplastics in two ways: by ensuring that our textiles have a long lifecycle and by closely following the emissions from our own process.
Lindström’s general goal is to keep our customers’ textiles in use for as long as possible, which means our textiles are durable and can endure washing and repairing. Our workwear is mainly made of cotton polyester, which guarantees a long life and serviceability. Lindström’s mats are mainly manufactured from cotton and nylon, making them very durable and efficient in collecting dirt. A long life is important not only for the environment and for the use of natural resources, but also for reducing the amount of microplastics. With each wash, less microplastics are released from textiles during both washing and drying.
We are careful that the solids in rinsing water do not exceed the limit values set by the authorities before we release the water into the local sewer system. Microplastics are a part of the solids, but there is no separate limit value for it and there is currently no standardised method for analysing the microplastics in wastewater. Fortunately, it is being developed. According to a study by Aalto University, at Finnish wastewater treatment plants, most (approximately 99%) of the micro-litter with a diameter of more than 20 micrometres can be eliminated by normal wastewater treatment methods. We always dispose of the lint pile collected from tumble dryers properly as energy waste if this is possible within the local waste management system.
It should also be noticed that microplastics are also created when washing and drying laundry at home. The advantage of industrial washing is that it is energy efficient, which means that the quantity of water, energy and detergents can be accurately optimised and the limit values for the solids in wastewater can be closely monitored. With our Sustainability Calculator, you can see the amount of water and energy that is saved in industrial washing when compared to home washing.