Examining the release of synthetic microfibres to the environment via two major pathways: Atmospheric deposition and treated wastewater effluent
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Research on the discharge of synthetic microfibres to aquatic environments has typically focused on laundering, where fibres can be discharged via wastewater effluent. However emerging research suggests that microfibres generated during the wear of textiles in normal use could present a major, additional, pathway for microfibre pollution to the environment. This study aimed to quantify and compare the quantities of microfibre entering the marine environment via both these pathways; wastewater discharge and atmospheric deposition. Areas of high and low population density were also evaluated. Samples were collected in and around two British cities (Bristol and Plymouth) both of which are located on tidal waters. Fibres originating from the atmosphere were deposited at an average rate of 81.6 fibres m2 d−1 across urban and rural areas. Treated wastewater effluent contained on an average 0.03 synthetic fibres L−1. Based on our results we predict ~20,000–500,000 microfibres could be discharged per day from the Wastewater Treatment Plants studied. When the two pathways were compared. Atmospheric deposition of synthetic microfibres appeared the dominant pathway, releasing fibres at a rate several orders of magnitude greater than via treated wastewater effluent. Potential options to reduce the release of microfibres to the environment are discussed and we conclude that intervention at the textile design stage presents the most effective approach. In order to guide policy intervention to inform the Plastics Treaty UNEA 5.2, future work should focus on understanding which permutations of textile design have the greatest influence fibre shedding, during both everyday use and laundering.
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