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AgResearch studying how materials breakdown in water

With concerns about pollution of oceans and its effects on marine life and seafood growing, AgResearch is carrying out research on how different materials break down in water. The initial study will take around 90 days and the results will be anlaysed by scientists who will then provide some information about how different materials break down in water.

Studies indicate that microfibres (up to five millimetres in size) are entering the oceans in large quantities – particularly from clothing and other materials in washing machines, where the tiny fibres can come loose and travel with the water into the drain, and ultimately to ocean outfalls. More evidence is also required for microfibres from interior textiles like carpets, bedding and other products that are cleaned less often.

In the ocean, smaller microfibres can be ingested by the marine life and can end up in our seafood, potentially creating health issues as volumes increase.

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AgResearch senior scientist Steve Ranford says the limited data available suggests wool – being a natural protein fibre – breaks down at a far greater rate in sea water, and therefore presents far less risk to the marine environment than synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon.

“To test that, we will be working with another Crown Research Institute, Scion, in an experiment that tests how samples from both woollen clothing and carpets biodegrade in controlled salt water conditions, compared to samples from the synthetic alternatives,” Ranford says.

“From there our research will consider other factors relating to the different materials and how they break down,” Ranford adds. “The aim is to provide the public with objective information as they make choices about what they buy, as well as inform manufacturers and retailers of the performance of goods like clothing and carpet.”

“There is a growing movement around the world by industry and governments towards more transparency about products and their potential impacts on the environment, and having good quality research is important for this discussion,” Ranford says.

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