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Fleecing the Planet

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Joining New Zealand snails ("The New Zealand Invaders," Nov. 29) in the assault on our environment is an inanimate contribution from our very own closets, drawers and kitchens: microplastics. Too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants, microfibers are found in a third of aquatic organisms, two-thirds of aquatic species and an astonishing 85 percent of shoreline pollutants. A single garment can produce more than 1,900 fibers per wash load.

"Poly" garments, and nearly 95 percent of the world's clothing, come from the 100 million tons of polyester produced annually. Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is made mostly from petroleum products like natural gas and recycled bottles. Houston-based LyondellBasell will manufacture 1.1 billion pounds a year of polyethylene in 2019. Eighty-five percent of the fibrous end product come from China, choking its waterways with plastic residues.

Much of PET end up in watercourses as millions of microfibers from clothing and other products made of acrylic, nylon and polyester fleece are washed "away."

Less frequent washing, using cold water, liquid detergents, low velocity spin cycles and mesh strainers like the Guppy Bag and dryer lint filters, can reduce microfiber releases. Patagonia offers free Guppy Bags, even as it inundates the market with ever-lasting fleece. Fibers from in-stream washing worldwide cannot be mitigated.

PET-eating bacteria and fungi can consume these plastics slowly but produce CO2; and incineration, either in facilities or house fires, combusts them into god knows what. Composting bioplastics releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The "plastisphere" favors high rates of bacterial gene exchange, an alarming situation that can induce antibiotic resistance. Microplastics from the photodegradation of macro-plastics, which, at 5.5 trillion oceanic pieces, will soon out-populate fish.

Conventionally produced cotton utilizes mountains of hazardous pesticides and fertilizers, and displaces crucial food-producing cropland. Organically produced clothing fibers remain a luxury.

Check out https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-microfibers/

Ken Miller, McKinleyville


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