Microplastics are having a significant impact on the world, and it’s becoming clear that everyone has a duty to try to curb their creation. Brands and designers are at the forefront of this change. Here, we take a look at home some of the leaders in their industries who are trying to make a difference.
Microplastics – What Are They?
The term “microplastics” is given to tiny plastic particles under 5mm in thickness or length. Although most environmental microplastics are by-products of manufacturing, or have been created by larger pieces of plastic breaking down with time, microplastics have also been intentionally added to products in recent years. For example, microplastic beads were recently being added to skincare products to exfoliate the skin until their harmfulness was realised.
Microplastics are also entering our ecosystem when products like plastic packaging become exposed to the waves, sun and other elements.
Microplastics cannot degrade fully, and so they’re being discovered in all types of sea life in high concentrations. The lifespans of sea life are being reduced, and they also suffer from reduced immune responses as a result.
If other animals or humans consume creatures that have high microplastic concentrations inside them, the microplastics enter their bodies too, resulting in more health issues. Microplastics disrupt the human endocrine system, and may impact our immune and nervous systems. These plastics also rarely pass entirely through the body, so concentrations build up over time.
So how can the world of product design and brands help solve this issues? Well, sustainability has been heavily influencing the way products are designed in the last few years, but here are some of the things that are happening.
Reducing Plastic Creation
Greenwashing with companies (especially major brands) is a particular issue at the moment, but product designers, as well as more and more brand manufacturers are now working on reducing how much plastic they create every year. Single-use items are now being less-frequently produced, and more companies are switching to products made from paper, metal, glass, and bamboo instead of plastic.
Although recycling is on the rise, reusing products made from plastic is a better option. Brands are now starting to reuse plastic products and are making them out of higher-quality and more durable materials.
Filtering Out Microplastics
The synthetic textile industry is a significant cause of microplastic pollution, with many microplastics entering the water during washing. Designers and brands are now looking at ways of filtering out these microplastics by developing technologies that separate and remove microplastics from the wastewater produced by textile mills. Filters have also been designed for washing machines that can capture microplastic particles.
New Synthetic Fibre Innovations
The amount of microplastics released by fabrics depends on fibre length and the way in which those fibres have been woven, spun, finished, and cut. Designers and brands are, therefore, now trying to minimising shedding by modifying fibres’ surfaces within fabrics and applying coatings that prevent shedding.
Some brands are now working on finding degradable new alternatives that have identical properties to synthetics, such as biosynthetic textiles made out of polymers that use renewable resources instead of fossil fuels.
Microplastics can also be combated by recycling plastics as much as possible, thus preventing plastic waste from going to landfill where it can eventually degrade into more microplastics. Designers and brands are now looking for ways to keep microplastics that are generated during manufacturing in a closed loop where they are captured and recycled instead of ending up in waste streams.
It’s clear that microplastics are a significant issue that will cause problems for animals, humans, and the environment both now and in the years to come. However, with many different brands and designers taking steps now to guard against the production of more microplastics in the future, it’s hopeful that their negative impact may be minimised and actions taken to reverse any damage that has been caused imminently.