When we think of ocean pollution we often think of plastic bags and bottles - but clothing and furniture are also causing problems, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have found that the items can cause “eutrophication” - excessive presence of things like nitrate or phosphate in the water which encourages algae growth at a rate that is damaging.
It is a problem most commonly associated with farming and food production, where chemicals and fertilisers seep from the land into waterways. But the study also shows that other consumer products might be just as damaging.
“Normally we think of food production as being the culprit behind eutrophication,” explains Helen Hamilton, from the university’s Technology’s Industrial Ecology Programme. “However, if we’re trying to fully understand and control eutrophication, ignoring the contributions from other consumer products such as clothing and furniture means that we’re only addressing part of cause of the pollution.”
The researchers said the production of non-food goods can be bad for the environment directly and indirectly.
For example, when a farmer grows cotton, fertilisers can end up in water systems and at the same time air pollution can be caused by the energy used to power factories, which in turn can be “absorbed by the oceans.”
Hamilton added: “From our work, we know that non-food consumption is growing over time and as people get richer. It is, therefore, increasingly important to consider the consumption of clothing, textiles and furniture in our strategies for solving this major ecological problem.”