Ilona Amos: Every time you do the laundry you damage the environment

That spandex cycling gear or go-fast jogging kit you can't leave home without may be a great help in the battle to keep your body at the peak of fitness and physical perfection.

The Cora Ball promises to capture microfibres shed by clothes during washing to stop them going down the drain and escaping into the environment
The Cora Ball promises to capture microfibres shed by clothes during washing to stop them going down the drain and escaping into the environment

However, they’re not so good for the health of the planet.

The problem is what they’re made of – stuff like nylon, acrylic, rayon and polyester, which are all synthetic materials. Forget the fact that you may risk incineration if you venture near a naked flame while dressed in some of these man-made fabrics, the real trouble begins when you throw them in the wash.

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A single garment can shed as many as 250,000 miniscule strands of plastic into the water each time it is laundered.

Known as microfibres, these tiny pieces are not captured by your washing machine and so are sloshed down drains and sewers.

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They are mainly too small to be picked up by water treatment plants and so can end up in the sea, where they pose a serious threat to marine life. A recent report found humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with the majority ending up in landfill or oceans. And estimates suggest up to 12 million tonnes is entering oceans around the world each year.

Once in the sea, our plastic detritus – including fishing gear, bottles, nurdles, straws and carrier bags – does not decompose for hundreds of years. Big stuff does break down, but into smaller pieces that can be eaten by fish and seabirds mistaking them for food.

It seems like we are at last beginning to wake up to the horrifying impact our increasing addiction to plastic is having on the environment. Most of us can see it’s an attraction that could prove fatal if we carry on business as usual.

And if not, perhaps they should check out a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which warns there could be more waste plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if serious action is not taken to address the crisis.

Thankfully there have been a raft of positive steps unfolding over the past few months. The 5p charge for carrier bags appears to have led to a reduction in the number littering beaches. There is now a ban on microbeads in cosmetic products such as toothpaste and body scrubs. The Scottish Government has outlawed both the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds and has pledged to introduce a deposit-return system for drinks containers. Councils across the country and many major retailers have agreed to do away with plastic straws. Some places have also introduced what they call a latte levy on disposable coffee cups.

It’s great that governments and big businesses are responding to pressure but it’s also important for each and every one of us to do as much as we can to reduce the amount of plastic litter we generate. We can all do better at recycling and cut any unnecessary packaging.

As for the washing-day blues, I‘m not suggesting we ditch our favourite disco shirts or the sheets on our beds. There are other ways to reduce wardrobe malfunctions. You could stick your offending undies inside the Guppy Friend, a fine-mesh bag that promises to sift out at least a proportion of microfibres from your wash. Or try the new Cora Ball, made of recycled plastic, which you put into the drum alongside your clothes and it will apparently pluck any dastardly fibres out of the water. Other tricks are to fill the drum to reduce friction, wash synthetics less often, on shorter and cooler cycles and spin more slowly.