Fate of Textile Microfibers Released During Home Laundering in Aquatic Environments: The Effect of Fabric Type, Washing Conditions, and Finishes

November 19, 2020

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Why has sustainability suddenly become so popular? Are you concerned about microplastics pollution? What is the key terminology of material recycling and the best industry practices. Join AATCC for our Sustainable Digital Series to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Fate of Textile Microfibers Released During Home Laundering in Aquatic Environments: The Effect of Fabric Type, Washing Conditions, and Finishes
Recorded November 19, 2020
Presented by Marielis Zambrano, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Forest Biomaterials, North Carolina State University

Microplastics are small plastic particles with size below 5 mm. They are generated from the fragmentation and wear of plastic objects, paints, textiles, tires, etc., They have been observed in freshwater and marine environments all over the world. They have been found in seafood, beer, tap water, sea salt, and human stools. They can adsorb pathogens and pollutants on their surface, and they might affect the growth and development of aquatic fauna.

Only in US and Canada, 878 tons or 3.5 quadrillion microfibers per year make it to environment via wastewater treatment plants, equivalent to 89 million plastic bottles; and microparticles from home laundering is thought to be the main route. For that reason, to address today’s concerns about microplastics pollution, the understanding of the fate of microfibers generated during home laundering in aquatic environments is critical.

In our research we have studied the number and mass of microfibers released from polyester, cotton, and rayon fabrics in both actual home laundering equipment and also with a LaunderOmeter, an accelerated laundering laboratory device. Additionally, biodegradation of these materials was evaluated in simulated aquatic environments, a local wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), lake, and ocean water, and analysis on the microbial communities before and after the experiments were made.

In general, all fabric types released microparticles. It is estimated that 700,000 particles are released per wash load. Cellulose based fabrics release more microfibers than did the polyester textile. Fabrics less resistance to abrasion like cotton are more susceptible to microfiber release and a strong correlation was found. However, the cellulosic fibers were found to readily biodegrade, whereas the polyester fibers remained essentially unchanged during the biodegradation experiments. Cellulosic fabrics with finishes also degraded but at a slower pace relative to the untreated cellulose fabric. The cellulosic fibers were highly assimilated by the bacteria in the environment, whereas the polyester microfibers are expected to persist for very long times. Cellulosic materials promoted a microbiome with enriched micro-organisms that can process cellulose whereas the polyester fibers behaved inertly with respect to the microbiome.

About the Speaker
Marielis Zambrano
is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Forest Biomaterials through the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University (NC State). She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University Los Andes in Venezuela in 2014. Marielis has experience managing multidisciplinary teams in international organizations in industry and academia. The sustainability has been the center of her career and during her Ph.D. at NC State, she has worked with an environmental hot topic — the plastic contamination in aquatic environments, specifically, understanding the generation of microplastics or microfibers shed during the laundering of textiles and their fate in aquatic and marine environments. She did groundbreaking work on the impact of microfibers on the bacterial communities in natural settings such as lake and ocean waters, and currently, she is evaluating the effects of textile finishes on cellulose-based fibers on their environmental fate. Marielis is passionate about promoting the circular economy in our society to create a sustainable future.

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The first in this series:
What is Sustainability?
Recorded November 5, 2020
Presented by Renee Lamb, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Fashion Design & Merchandising, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts

“What is Sustainability” presents an introduction to the catch word of the decade. During this presentation we will examine: why sustainability has suddenly become so popular; what exactly sustainability is and what is, or should be, encompassed in its definition; why we should care about sustainability at all; and what exactly can we do to incorporate more sustainable practices into our own lives, workplaces and companies.

The third in this series:
Recycled Content Products – From Manufacturing to Marketing
Recorded December 3, 2020
Presented by Min Zhu, Ph.D., Technical Director, Softlines, SGS North America, Inc.

In the wave of sustainability, more companies start to make products using recycled materials to reduce the landfill and overall carbon footprint. This presentation will walk you through the key terminology of material recycling, give you a general idea of how materials are recycled, and share good industry practices. You will also learn the various recycled material assessment programs in verifying the claimed recycled content. This will help you choose the most appropriate one based on your specific needs. Lastly, the rules and industry guidance in global key markets on marketing and labeling a product containing recycled content will be introduced to help you make correct labels and claims on your products.

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