Tiny fibres from denim jeans found in the Canadian Arctic 

Microscopic fibres from blue denim jeans have been found in the Arctic for the first time, a new study claims. 

Scientists discovered indigo denim microfibers in the North American waters, which are shed during laundering, enter waterways and can be ingested by fish.  

Indigo denim fibres also make up almost a quarter of microfibres in the Great Lakes in and around the Canada-US border and  a fifth of clothing fragments in the the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the experts reveal. 

Their experiments also showed about 50,000 microscopic denim fragments are shed in a single domestic wash, despite its reputation as a robust textile. 

One practical solution to the problem would be for consumers to wash their jeans and other textiles more infrequently. 

A previous study also found that clothing may be more prone to shredding microscopic plastic fibres into our waterways if it has been cut during manufacturing with scissors as opposed to lasers.    

Images of an indigo denim fibre identified as cotton found in (C) Arctic sediments, (D) Great Lakes fish, and (E) wastewater treatment plants effluent and (F) a denim fiber released from blue jeans collected from wash water effluent. Scale bars are 10 micrometres

Images of an indigo denim fibre identified as cotton found in (C) Arctic sediments, (D) Great Lakes fish, and (E) wastewater treatment plants effluent and (F) a denim fiber released from blue jeans collected from wash water effluent. Scale bars are 10 micrometres

The study shows that one of the most ubiquitous and versatile garments is leaving traces in some of the most pristine regions of the world. 

In the past century, the popularity of blue jeans has grown rapidly, with a global market value forecast to reach US$85 billion by 2025, meaning denim pollution could get worse. 

'At any moment, approximately half of the world’s population is wearing blue jeans and other denim garments,' they say in their research paper, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

'Here we show, for the first time, that blue jeans, the world’s most popular single garment, have a widespread geographic footprint in the form of microfibers in aquatic environments from temperate to Arctic regions. 

'In fact, these “natural” microfibers are often more abundant than synthetic microfibers in environmental samples.' 

Despite the manufacturers’ recommendation of washing jeans monthly, the average Canadian washes their jeans after wearing a pair twice, according to the researchers. 

Despite the manufacturers’ recommendation of monthly washing, the average Canadian washes their jeans after wearing a pair twice

Despite the manufacturers’ recommendation of monthly washing, the average Canadian washes their jeans after wearing a pair twice

Previous studies have shown that washing denim and other fabrics releases microfibers – tiny, elongated particles – to wastewater.

Although most microfibers are removed by wastewater treatment plants, some can still enter the environment through wastewater discharge, known as effluent. 

Blue jean denim is composed of natural cotton cellulose fibres, processed with synthetic indigo dye and other chemical additives to improve durability. 

Researchers therefore wondered whether blue jeans were a major source of human-made cellulose microfibers to the aquatic environment. 

The team from the University of Toronto used microscopy and raman spectroscopy to identify and count indigo denim microfibers in various water samples collected in Canada. 

Denim blue jeans are iconic as the most ubiquitous and versatile garment in the world and in the past century their popularity has grown rapidly, the experts say

Denim blue jeans are iconic as the most ubiquitous and versatile garment in the world and in the past century their popularity has grown rapidly, the experts say

Raman spectroscopy scatters light from a high intensity laser source to reveal information about chemical structure.

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Indigo denim made up 23 per cent of all microfibres in sediments from the Great Lakes, they found.

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