On October 31st, Kate and Gina set off to the WI End Plastic Soup Conference at the Abbey Centre in Westminster. The speakers – Bruce Newport from The Environment Agency, Stephanie Wright from Kings College London, Arturo Castillo of Imperial College London, Rachael Miller of The Rozailia Project and Natalie Welden from Glasgow University – were erudite and passionate about their subject and the information provided frighteningly demonstrated the importance of this WI campaign.
So, what is the issue?
Microplastic fibres are small plastic fragments (5mm or smaller) that are shed from synthetic clothes when laundered and end up in the sea and wider environment. The scale of the problem is large: millions of people wash their clothes every week, shedding these tiny particles that are too small to be caught by the machine’s filters, flowing into the sewage system and eventually into the ocean.
Due to their small size microplastic fibres are readily ingested by aquatic life, filling up their stomachs which can eventually cause death. We also know these fibres can end up in the food we eat – the long term effects of which are not yet clear.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has predicted that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the sea than fish. Urgent action is needed to raise awareness of the issue: the campaign is about educating communities and raising awareness amongst members and the wider public to put the issue on the public agenda and encourage greater action.
In light of the facts that were presented to the conference, it was hard not to feel pessimistic but Rachael Miller of The Rozailia Project was more upbeat with suggestions on how as a group and as individuals, we could make a difference.
Actions that could be taken included: washing at a lower temperature, ensuring that clothes were only washed when necessary rather than when half dirty, reducing the length of the wash cycle and ensuring that washing loads run at capacity. It was also suggested that members might wish to invest in a fibre catching device such as the Cora Ball for use in washing machines.
The Cora Ball does not solve the problem completely but claims to remove about 30% of microfibres released in the washing cycle.
After the academic speakers, three members of Selby Swans WI (together with mannequin Adelaide dressed completely in clothes made from unrecyclable plastic) gave an inspiring talk. As a fairly new WI they had really grasped the nettle with this campaign and shared with the conference the many ways they had worked to spread the message to their local community and the encouragement given to members to pledge to make a difference.
It was a hard act to follow but the representative from Isle of Wight Federation spoke about this campaign and the way in which they had linked it with the move to reduce the single use plastic. The Federation is working hard with other IOW stakeholders to really make a difference.
The floor was then opened up and members had a number of excellent ideas and suggestions about how the WI could be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Gina and Kate came away feeling that the issue was a really pressing one and that efforts needed to be exerted on government and businesses to take steps to reduce the sea of plastic which is threatening to compromise our health and environment. There is however much that we can do as members to make a real difference.
- Learn more and raise awareness– watch ‘A Plastic Tide’, Sky’s documentary looking at the scale of ocean plastic waste and how it is entering the food chain.
- Use the NFWI’s postcard and write to your favourite clothing retailer asking them what they are doing to tackle the issue of microplastic fibres (available in the NFWI report – In A Spin – on pages 20 and 21 and also available to download on My WI).
- Use the NFWI’s template MP/AM letter to highlight the report findings and ask for commitment from Government (available to download on My WI).
- Think about ways in which you can cut back on single use plastic. One delegate recommended the book ‘No. More. Plastic.: What you can do to make a difference’ by Martin Dorey. The book is available in West Sussex Libraries.
- Consider the laundry suggestions outlined above on how to minimise microplastic pollution
- With Christmas rapidly approaching, think about where presents and wrapping paper may end up. Each Christmas alone the UK generates the weight of 3.3 million Emperor Penguins in plastic waste. And 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used each Christmas in the UK alone – enough to go around the globe 9 times! Metallic wrapping paper and paper with glitter on is NOT recyclable and glitter is actually a microplastic so best avoided in all it’s forms. Maybe think about a different way of wrapping (non-plastic) gifts:- https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-furoshiki-japanese-fabric-wrapping/
- Pick up plastic from the beach – we’re in a perfect place to do that.
- Consider buying second hand clothes occasionally.
Words: Gina Fitch-Roy
Photos: Kate Claisse