From the smallest fish in the ocean to the patrons of the seafood restaurant down the street, microfibers affect us all. Using a method recently developed by testing laboratory and research institute Hohenstein, we can now use real data to focus efforts and lessen the environmental impacts of microfibers released by textiles.
Microparticles released from synthetic fibers (microfibers) are tiny pieces of plastic that make their way into the food chain after being released during mechanical stress, such as washing. Laundry wastewater then flows into sewage systems.
Without adequate wastewater treatment, microfibers seep into ground water and larger bodies of water, attracting pollutants along the way. These toxin-laden microfibers can be consumed by sea life, harming their health or contaminating the food chains of larger fish and humans.
Hohenstein’s new analytical method uses dynamic image analysis to quantify previously unattainable information such as the number and percentage of non-cellulosic fibers released, and which material constructions contribute least to microfiber release. This data can be used in developing textiles with reduced microfiber shedding.
The method is the result of four years of research, led by Jasmine Haap and published in a 2019 paper. The project included precise calibrations of software and hardware for capturing and quantifying images of individual microfibers within wastewater. The validated method results in approximately 10,000 images per wastewater sample and reveals important details including fiber count, shape and length.
With dynamic image analysis being non-destructive, further tests—such as filtration—can be performed. Filtration is currently the most common way to measure microfibers, involving the filtering, then weighing, the wastewater.
Hohenstein has nearly completed the next phase of research and will be able to determine the chemical composition of microfibers using laser-based spectroscopy (LD-IR).
These specific details will help determine which fiber types contribute most to microfiber release, aiding efforts to develop more sustainable materials throughout the supply chain.
Researchers are optimistic that the combination of these methods will help our industry reduce its ecological impact.
For more information on microfiber analysis at Hohenstein, visit Hohenstein.US/Microfibers.