This is a project and installation exploring how the microplastics used in clothing make their way into waterway systems via washing machines.
The installation consists of a series of washing machines which tell the story of microplastics. The machines present homespun experiments that raise questions about how clothes are made, worn and washed, what traces our clothes leave on waterways, and how plants and riverbeds, people and animals are cohabiting with the millions of microscopic particles hidden in the mud and water.
When clothing made from synthetic fibres like polyester are washed, small lengths of fibre break off and make their way into our sewerage system. For some clothes, especially new ones, this amounts to hundreds of thousands of fibres making their way into the sewerage system. Joining up with glitter and microbeads from cosmetics, body paint and kids play, this army of microplastics makes its way towards the ultimate destination of the majority of our water waste, the rivers and coastline of the UK.
Although around 98% of these microplastics will get caught at the sewerage works, Thames Water process around 4.6 billion litres of sewerage every day, so even the little that escapes amounts to trillions of fibres and particles every year.
Large amounts of sewerage is bypassing this process due to heavy rainfall and dumping. In 2020, at least 24 billion litres of sewerage was discharged by Thames Water, that’s enough to fill 10,000 olympic sized swimming pools.
Given current scientific estimates of how many microfibres are being emitted from our washing machines every day nad making their way into the oceans, if we could join all the fragments of fibre back together, the strand would wrap around the Earth more than a 1,000 times.
The project aims to provoke new understandings of microplastics and the journey they take through the pipes in our houses from the clothes we wear.
Initially commissioned by Metal for Estuary 2021 festival and funded by Arts Council England.