By Joanna McClanahan of Ramblin’ Mama
Bad news for lovers of comfortable clothes: Researchers have found that the tiny plastic microfibers found in synthetic materials are polluting our oceans at an alarming rate.
According to the Huffington Post, “Nylon, acrylic, polyester and other materials ― which are used to make workout pants, tops, fleeces, and other leisure clothing ― are all petroleum-based plastics. They’re spun into tiny threads and woven together to make fabric. When people clean these clothes in a washing machine, microfibers are released and end up in wastewater treatment plants. From there, they travel to rivers, lakes and oceans.”
The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project recently tested 950 water samples from around their state. Microfibers made up 83 percent of the plastics identified, more than any other type.
The volume of microfibers in natural bodies of water has gone unseen, literally, because of the types of tools researchers use, such as nets, which allow microscopic debris to slip through. Microfibers are 100 times thinner than a strand of human hair and can’t be seen by the naked eye.
As more studies emerged to study the effects of microbeads (another form of microplastic, which was recently banned in the U.S.), they found microfibers to be even more pervasive.
Last year, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. They also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets. Based on an estimate of consumers across the world washing 100,000 Patagonia jackets each year, the amount of fibers being released into public waterways is equivalent to the amount of plastic in up to 11,900 grocery bags.
These microfibers are also affecting our food supply, as fish are ingesting them but not necessarily excreting them. As cited by The Guardian, a separate Great Lakes study found that, under a microscope, the microfibers seemed to be “weaving themselves into the gastrointestinal tract.” They are being embedded into the tissues of marine life and it’s unclear how this will impact fish eaters in the future.
What can you do?
- Opt for natural fabrics, including bamboo, linen, and silk.
- Invest in a front-load washer. Patagonia studies show synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed more than five times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers.
- Put your synthetic clothing into a filter bag before washing by hand or machine. This can significantly reduce the flow of microfibers into your drain. Patagonia is currently crowdfunding a product called “Guppy Friend,” a bag for washing synthetic clothing that traps microfibers and keeps them from entering the water system. Or install a permanent washing machine filter like Wexco’s Filtrol 160. The Rozalia Project’s microfiber catcher ball should be available to customers later this year.
- Or, my personal favorite, DO LESS LAUNDRY. Only wash synthetic clothing when it’s absolutely necessary (and you’ll conserve water in the process).
I love my yoga pants but, as it turns out, I also love sushi. So let’s be kinder to the planet and avoid plastic fish by being smarter about the way we wash our comfy synthetic clothes.