- 05 Apr 2019
We care about the planet and love that our customers do too. Microplastics are a growing problem, so we wanted to investigate our impact and how we can minimise it.
We talk about plastic waste a lot, and that's because it’s everywhere and it’s a problem.
Plastic was first developed in 1907 and because of its extremely useful, versatile and in some cases lifesaving nature, plastic quickly became ubiquitous with a worldwide yearly production reaching 15 million tonnes by the mid-nineteen-sixties1.
The problem? We were producing 15 million tonnes of plastic before we’d even figured out how to get rid of it.
We may have figured out how to recycle plastic, but the process is far from perfect and it’s not happening at the rate we need it to. Why isn’t recycling the answer? In the next minute, people around the world will purchase 1 million plastic bottles2 and 2 million plastic bags3 and only a very small percentage will be recycled.
We continue to produce plastic even though nearly all the plastic we’ve ever made still exists, so it’s not surprising it is having a massive impact on the environment, especially the world’s oceans.
What are microplastics?
Plastic waste can come in many forms from super soft plastic like single-use plastic bags to hard plastics used to produce anything from toys and tools to industrial cleaning bottles.
It can also come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s these small pieces of plastic debris that are less than 5 millimetres in length that are officially known as microplastics.
How are microplastics created?
The Australian Marine Conservation Society explains that there are two types of microplastics that pollute our oceans, essentially those made to be micro and those that weren’t.
The first type of microplastics are pieces of plastic designed to be ‘micro’. These small pieces of plastic are used by factories that make larger plastic products or are used in products like toothpaste, body scrubs and washing powder.
The second type of microplastic wasn’t intentional and is more prevalent. These microplastics come about from the breakdown of other larger plastic products, usually single-use plastics, by sunlight, wind, waves and heat.
Microfibres are another example of microplastic that fits this category. Textiles release synthetic fibres when being washed, these microfibres then enter into our waterways.
What do we know about the impact of microplastic so far?
Studying microplastics is a relatively new but rapidly growing field of investigation. In 2014 it was reported that more than 5.2 trillion particles of plastic were swirling in the planet’s oceans1.
Being so small means microplastics get everywhere, and it’s not only marine life that’s being impacted, microplastics have been found in flying insects, beer and even honey. An investigation carried out by Orb Media also found microplastics in 83% of tap water samples around the world4.
About ENJO and microplastics
For those who don’t know, ENJO is a sustainable, chemical-free cleaning range that allows households around the world to clean their home with just water and fibre cleaning products.
To be able to produce effective fibre cleaning technology, ENJO products are made from a mix of five raw materials, polyester, acrylic, polyamide, viscose and cotton. Yep, they contain plastic.
This combination of raw materials varies depending on the cleaning products purpose and intended surface, however, it’s the polyamide and polyester that maximise ENJO’s cleaning power with wedge-shaped fibres 100 times finer than a human hair.
Do ENJO products generate microplastics?
ENJO take their impact on the planet seriously. As a zero waste brand that operates from a 100% carbon neutral HQ, we proudly offer a sustainable way to clean Aussie homes. So when Scientists first started to realise microplastics were being released from synthetic textiles, ENJO International conducted an investigation into the release of microplastics from ENJO products.
Microplastics | ENJO vs chemical cleaning products
ENJO cleaning products are handmade and extremely durable as they are designed to not only eliminate chemicals but reduce waste by being reusable for 3 years. Being reusable means ENJO products need to be washed, and this is how they generate microplastics, but how much microplastic do ENJO products produce?
An ENJOpure home washes approximately 100kg of ENJO products per year, that’s around 2kg per weekly load. ENJO International testing indicates that washing 100kg of ENJO products generates 16g of microplastic per year, which is the equivalent of 7 grains of rice.
So if you clean your home with ENJO for 3 years (the lifecycle of your ENJO products), you’ll generate 48g (or 21 grains of rice) of microplastics.
What about cleaning with chemicals?
If a household uses 25 plastic bottles of various cleaning detergents in a year, they are producing 1500g of plastic waste, plastic that eventually ends up in a landfill and breaks down slowly over time causing a myriad of problems for the planet and eventually becoming microplastic.
Over three years that’s around 4500g of plastic waste equating to around 94 times more waste when compared to ENJO.
What happens to ENJO products after 3 years?
ENJO products are long lasting, but like most textiles, they won’t last forever.
Tests carried out by ENJO International show that after 3 years the fibres become less effective at cleaning surfaces and actually tend to shed more fibres making it important to refresh them.
Do ENJO products end up as waste?
No. We're passionate about reducing household waste, it’s important to us that old ENJO products don’t end up contributing to a landfill.
How do I stop my old ENJO products becoming waste?
When the time comes to refresh your ENJO cleaning products you have two options; contact your local ENJOpreneur who will collect your old fibres or contact the ENJO Customer Care Team who will organise the collection of your old fibres.
ENJO International upcycle them into padding for car seats or home insulation.
What else can we do to help minimise microplastics?
In 2015 a team of researchers trawled a mess growing in our ocean named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and identified that 99.9% of the items pulled from the ‘patch’ (which is estimated to be the size of California) was plastic5.
The majority of this plastic isn't microplastic, yet, but it's only a matter of time. This is why actively trying to minimise our daily impact is important, here are some ways we can all help.
Reduce, reuse and recycle (in that order)
Buying too much, too often and choosing disposable and unrecyclable items has to stop. Reduce how much you buy, choose reusable items and sustainable materials.
Stop using plastic bags
We all know plastic bags are a problem, useful for about 12 minutes but essentially lasting forever, these bags wreak havoc to wildlife numerous times over. There are so many alternatives that are so much better.
Avoid the spin cycle
Spinning your clothes may help them dry quicker, but it also creates a lot of friction, damaging the textiles and releasing more fibres.
Choose textiles carefully
Avoid fast fashion and invest in long-lasting, quality clothing. Check labels for synthetic textiles and choose from environmentally responsible brands.
Sign petitions to ban single-use plastics
Single-use needs to become a thing of the past, research and sign petitions relevant to your local community.
Only wash clothing when you need to
Washing your clothes less frequently prolongs their life, saves energy and help prevent microplastics. Try spot cleaning textiles and clothing in between washes as required.
Become a citizen scientist
The Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) run by Macquarie University in Sydney, is calling on citizen scientists (that could be you) to help assess the microplastic problem in Australia.
AUSMAP provide interested Aussies with the information and training needed to collect and identify their own microplastic samples and upload their data to a national database. The data samples collected are sent to researchers who analyse and publish the data that will be used to help find solutions.
Keep parties green
We tend to throw caution to the wind when it comes to throwing a party, but parties can generate so much plastic waste (think balloons, straws, plastic cups, plates and cutlery). We’re not saying you should scale back your celebration but consider eco party options instead.
Wash clothing on a short cycle
Washing your clothes for a shorter period of time means less aggravation to your textiles and therefore fewer loose fibres.
Personal care products
Hang clothing and textiles out to dry
Tumble drying aggravates textiles and uses energy (it’s also a no-no for prolonging the life of your ENJO products). If you do use your dryer, clean out the filter and throw lint away instead of washing it down the sink
Choose liquid washing detergent (not powder)
Powder washing detergents tend to have a more abrasive ‘scrubbing’ effective, loosening more fibres from textiles. Choose kind and caring liquid laundry detergents made from plant and mineral-based ingredients!
Try wash bags and Cora balls
Join clean up crews (or start your own)
Microplastics account for 8% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the rest is larger plastic that will break down to become microplastic. This highlights the importance of taking part in initiatives like Clean Up Australia Day to prevent larger plastic waste entering the ocean to begin with.
Support a research charity
For 50 years the Australian Marine Conservation Society has been working closely with research centres across the globe, employing conservation experts who work hard to safeguard the future of Australia’s amazing oceans.
How do you tackle the plastic problem in your everyday life? Share your ideas in the comments.