Demand Legislative Action

Microplastic pollution has long been associated with the ocean, pushing the issue thousands of miles away from inland states. However, this is not the case. Microplastics have been measured along coastlines, in freshwater, in soil, in snow, and even in the air. Due to the presence of microplastic pollution in inland environments, Colorado has developed a serious underlying health risk. Microplastics have potential for both a chemical and physical impact on human health, threatening damage to organs, acting as a carrier for toxic pollutants upon consumption, and various other present risks. This is a dire situation, but there is an opportunity to introduce obstacles to prevent additional microplastics from entering Colorado’s waterways.

The ability to reduce the amount of microplastic pollution flowing into Colorado’s waterways is due to the identification of the dominant form of microplastic pollution as microfibers. The main source of microfibers is domestic and industrial laundering, where thousands of microfibers are released over the course of one wash cycle. These microfibers then flow into a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) where a variety of fates can occur.

Some microfibers will simply flow through the WWTP filters, which are insufficient at filtering out these microscopic fibers. These microfibers end up in Colorado’s watershed or recycled into the water system, finding their way back into our lives through our tap water and beer. Some microfibers will be caught up in the filter and the sludge that the WWTP is able to remove. However, Colorado uses WWTP biosolids for agriculture purposes, meaning that while the microfibers are filtered out, they are eventually applied to fields where they become ingrained in the soil or find their way into the watershed as run-off.

While it seems difficult to control microfiber pollution due to its microscopic size by design and universal presence; there are a few key preventative solutions that could have a significant impact on the number of microfibers released into the environment. By implementing requirements of microfiber filters on all washing machines in Colorado, labeling in regard to the shedding of synthetic microfibers of specific garments at point of sale, and a statewide public health campaign. Colorado can prevent further microfiber pollution to protect the health and wellbeing of its citizens and environment.

Protection of Colorado’s water resources from further microfiber pollution is possible through the enactment of the following preventative measures:

Required Microfiber Filters on All Domestic and Industrial Washing Machines:

In order to target the point source of microfiber pollution, washing machines, all domestic and industrial washing machines within the state boundary of Colorado are required to have a microfiber filter. Washing machines release thousands of synthetic microfibers when synthetic garments are washed, releasing microfibers directly into the water system where there is insufficient filtration to capture microfibers at both the washing machine and wastewater treatment levels. There is existing technology in the form of an attachable microfiber filter that can be easily attached to any washing machine; even multi-unit commercial systems.

“Sheds Plastic Microfibers During Wash” Sticker Labeling:

A label will be attached to all garments that contain greater than or equal to 30% synthetic materials and are for retail sale within the state boundaries of Colorado. The label will state, “Sheds Plastic Microfibers During Wash” or another rendition that clearly states that the garment contains synthetic materials that will shed during wash. This is a point of purchase measure that will inform consumers about the impact of their synthetic garment in terms of water pollution, spread awareness of the issue, alert consumers on methods to reduce shedding by proper garment care, and indirectly reduce demand for synthetic fabrics. The labeling will be conducted using a plastic-free, biodegradable sticker that is attached to the price tag of an item at the retail location within Colorado. The label will apply to all clothing garments, excluding footwear. The sticker system will reduce the materials used to label a garment by attaching to the brand’s pre-attached price tag. This state-mandated labeling system results in a small additional cost to the retail store that can be built into the lease, taxes, or license of the brick and mortar storefront. A labeling system creates an awareness of the quantity of garments sold using synthetic materials as well as the necessary washing methods to use when laundering the garment that can reduce shedding. This information is provided through the state’s public awareness initiative partnered with The Blue Standard.

Public Awareness Campaign Partnered with The Blue Standard:

The quintessential aspect of any environmental and human health policy is public awareness of the concern and education on how to mitigate one’s individual impact. Along with the requirements of this policy proposal, the Colorado state government is encouraged to partner with The Blue Standard to spread awareness of the health and environmental concerns regarding microfiber pollution. The Blue Standard will work with the state of Colorado along with stakeholders in the industry, environmental, and domestic aspects of the microfiber issue to ensure the success and equity of the Blue Standard in the state of Colorado.

The public awareness campaign will include measures such as: postings in laundromats and other community-style washing locations with conscious synthetic washing tips, supporting sustainable washing campaigns at Colorado universities and colleges, education on microfiber filter options and maintenance, and any additional measures as they arise with the implementation of The Blue Standard’s recommended legislation.