Microfibers released by washing machines are known to have harmful impacts on aquatic systems. A new study published in PLoS ONE has revealed the environmental impacts of using tumble dryer machines. The study found that drying cotton and polyester clothing in a machine releases just as many microfibers as washing machines. They also discovered that most lint filters are ineffective at trapping smaller fibers, particularly cotton fibers.
A team of researchers from Northumbria University and Procter & Gamble analyzed fibers from over 1,200 garments from North America and Europe. They measured the volume of microfibers released to find that by tumble drying our clothing, we are releasing just as many microfibers into the air as we release into the water system via washing machines.
Dr. Kelly Sheridan, an expert in textile fibres at Northumbria University, explained why the study is unique. “Ours is the first study that has simultaneously quantified microfibres released from clothing during washing alongside that released when the clothing is then tumble dried.”
This research is noteworthy for more than one reason, according to Dr. Sheridan. “It is critical to our understanding of the impact of microfibers on human health and the environment that all the potential pathways for microfibre release, including air, are assessed. Airborne fibres are just as concerning as those present in wastewater.”
Dr. Neil Lant, a research fellow at P&G and the leading scientist on this study, notes that few of us know the impact of using tumble dryers. Although we have become more aware of the energy costs of using dryers, we might want to consider the harmful impacts dryer use has on air pollution. He also believes it’s up to the industry to tackle this issue.
“These latest findings are a call to action for the appliance industry to improve the efficiency of fibre filtration systems in vented dryers and drive the conversion to condenser dryers with no airborne fibre release, especially super energy efficient heat pump dryers.”
By Erin Moody , Earth.com Staff Writer