“There shall be in that rich dust a richer dust concealed”
Over the past bank holiday weekend, I’ve been running DIY/Kitchen Microbiology workshops for Strange Science at the wonderful Eden Project. In a few spare moments that I had, I gathered a ubiquitous grey dust that I found in forgotten corners of The Core building, and examined it under the microscope setup that I had brought with me for the workshops.
The microscope revealed the grey and fragile dust clots to be incredibly complex tangles of textile microfibers (and occasional human hairs), that had silently shed off the clothing of the site’s millions of visitors, and then collected in undusted corners. Not all, but many of these microfibers, will be filaments made of synthetic and petroleum-based materials such as polyester and nylon that are woven together into our fabrics, and as such they represent an insidious form of plastic pollution. The Eden Project is remarkable and important, and takes huge efforts to reduce its impact on the environment, but this demonstrates that how, sometimes despite our best efforts and intentions, we can inadvertently pollute our environments.
The finding of this plastic rich dust at the Eden Project is not of huge environmental issue here, but it does highlight a much more significant environmental concern. When we launder the same clothes that we wore at the Eden Project, the same synthetic microfibres will be released in their thousands, to go down the drain to the sewage treatment plant, and then to finally end up in natural bodies of water. This type of microplastic has been found in all environments examined so far, and laboratory studies have shown it to be environmentally persistent and to have physical and chemical impacts on marine organisms.