The next time you’re shopping for a new winter coat, cosmetics body washes and even toothpaste, there’s something you may want to keep an eye out for – microfibers and microplastics.
These synthetic materials are found in everything from the clothes we wear to some toothpaste to the little scrubby creams we use on our face or bodies to wash away “impurities.” Many of these creams are defined as exfoliants, which I’ve sometimes described to my wife as a fancy word for nonsense. I joke, but I know how popular these products are in my own family.
Nationally, microfibers and microplastics have become a hot topic. Several stories have recently been published on how these synthetic materials are making their way into the environment or drinking water. Here’s one from NPR on microfibers in clothing.
As a water and wastewater utility, we have both good news and bad news on the microfibers front. The good news is that – thanks to a legacy of wise water resource planning – we get most of our drinking water from first-use supplies, collected in high mountain reservoirs. So, we’re largely insulated from these types of compounds ever appearing in our drinking water.
The not-so-good news is that current wastewater treatment technology cannot remove microfibers and microplastics from the treated wastewater that is returned to the environment. Since these synthetic materials are in a lot of the products we buy, they’re leached from your clothes every time you wash them, or go down the drain every time you brush your teeth, or use certain face or body washes. Once released into the environment, they can pose challenges for both aquatic species and downstream water users.
From the wastewater utility perspective, new regulations could be on the horizon that would force us to remove these compounds from treated wastewater. While those new regulations could be years down the road, such standards would likely rely on expensive, emerging technology – costs that would eventually impact our utility bills.
So, what can you do as a consumer to help? Just raising your level of awareness can go a long way. As a start, some manufacturers of plastic-free products have begun to use the zero plastic logo featured in this blog. Still, we realize that clothing made exclusively out of organic materials can be expensive. The same is true with cosmetic products that only contain biodegradable ingredients. We don’t expect you to break your budget to help us avoid microfibers and microplastics. However, scrutinizing labels a little closer and sending an email to manufacturers and/or your elected representatives in Washington could make a difference.
Our hope is that before costly regulatory requirements are dictated to utility providers and our customers, clothing and cosmetic manufacturers are prompted to bring more natural, cost-effective solutions to the mainstream market.
Meanwhile, if you have the budget and like to be cutting edge, I have found online stores that sell organic underwear, diapers, dresses, yoga pants, yodel outfits, pirate shirts, dress shirts, Superman tights and fancy ruffle shirts. Well, maybe not all of those, but organic and plastic-free clothing, toothpaste and cosmetics do exist both online and in stores.