Every time people do the laundry, tiny – often invisible – particles of fibres shed and end up in the rivers and oceans, according to a research by Ocean Wise.

While the microfibres can't always be seen with the naked eye, a massive amount ends up in the waters.

The washing machine is where the damage happens," said Peter Ross, vice-president of research with Ocean Wise. "In essence, we're slowly degrading and destroying our clothes."

The study estimates 878 tonnes of plastic microfibres are released from households in Canada and the United States through wastewater treatment plants annually. To put that into perspective, that equals the weight of 10 blue whales.

The study, "Me, My clothes and the Ocean: The role of textiles in microfiber pollution," found zooplankton has mistaken the fibres as food.

"That's a real concern because that's the very basis of the food chain in the world's oceans. If we start to adversely affect the very base of the food chain out there in the ocean, there could be significant consequences," Ross said.

He said consumers can help reduce the amount of microplastics by being smart shoppers and looking for clothing that shed less. Wash less often and use a front-loading machine because it's gentler with clothing. When doing laundry, put it in the gentle cycle, use cold water and less soap, he suggested.

"Being gentle with our clothes is something that's going to be good for the longevity of the item: they'll last longer, they'll be more durable and they'll be good for the oceans in the long term," he said.

In addition, he said the study highlights the need for changes across the spectrum: manufacturers need to be cognizant of what materials they use, wastewater treatment engineers need to be aware of what designs they employ and government officials have the opportunity to introduce policy to change the industry.

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