Wrapped in Plastic
It is Plastic-free July and many of us are using this opportunity to look at ways we can reduce our plastic consumption. Maybe you have already made a few changes like using metal straws, canvas shopping totes, or even beeswax to replace plastic wrap. That is great! However, you might have missed one big opportunity that is touching you right now. You could be wrapping yourself in plastic and not realize it.
Turns out, that 60% of our clothing is made from synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers include, but are not limited to, polyester, nylon, acrylic and spandex. These fibers are man-made polymers and, just like plastic, made from petrochemicals. In fact, polyester is also known as PET when it is used in making plastic bottles instead of fabric.
Synthetic fibers have become increasingly popular since DuPont first started using nylon in the 1930s to replace silk during the WWII rationing. Between 1980 – 2014 the industry grew by 55.7 million tons! Over 70% of that growth was in polyester fibers. Our yoga pants, fleece jackets, and most of our underwear are made of these fibers. Check your labels and you will probably find quite a few synthetic fibers in your own closet.
The increase in the production and consumption of these fibers is causing a significant rise in microfiber pollution. Microfiber pollution is tiny fibers from plastic that are released into wastewater when you wash these synthetic products. These fibers are so small that they pass through all the wastewater filtration systems we currently have in place. This means they are going straight into our oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Once these fibers get into the water, they are consumed by our fish and wildlife causing gastrointestinal problems, reproductive issues, and starvation. Just like plastic, the fibers concentrate and allow bacteria and pollutants to latch onto them, poisoning our water. Just one polyester garment can release as much as 2000 fibers in one wash! Not only are the fish and other wildlife filling up on plastic fibers but so are you and me. Drinking and eating plastic doesn’t sound very appetizing to me, I have a feeling you would agree.
The easiest solution is purchasing products made from natural fibers. These fibers include organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and ethically-raised wool. These fibers will biodegrade much faster than the plastic fibers and won’t cause as much pollution. However, you still need to be careful because many of these fibers are blended with synthetics. When looking at tags watch out for blends like 50% Cotton/50% polyester, 90% Cotton/10% Spandex, and 40% wool/60% Acrylic.
You might be looking in your closet now and realizing it is full of plastic of one kind or another. Even small details like buttons, sequins, and beads can be added onto 100% cotton garments contaminating them with small plastic particles. Don’t throw out all your plastic clothing; that would be even worse for the environment! Here are a few options for dealing with these fibers so that they do not cause as much pollution.
- Wash synthetic garments less frequently. This will likely be hard because a lot of your performance apparel gets dirty after you use it for activities. Ask yourself when you get dressed if you really need to wear those polyester yoga pants to do your weekend errands or if you can save them for yoga.
- Hand-wash the synthetics. It is usually the agitation during washing that causes the loose fibers to be released. If you can hand-wash the garments gently without rubbing, twisting, or wringing, the chances of the fibers coming loose is greatly reduced.
- Purchase a Guppyfriend washing bag. This is a patented bag that catches the tiny microfibers as you wash so that you can collect them and dispose of them properly. This is highly recommended for fleece jackets. Fleece jackets are often made from a loose weave fabric with a high pile. The fabrics is already prone to shedding because the fibers are agitated to create the soft fluffy surface fleece is known for. Also, the older a fleece gets, the looser the fabric becomes. An old fleece can release twice as many microfibers as a new one.
Hopefully you find some these solutions helpful! The problem really is bigger than you think. Help support the environment by sharing with your friends and family. Lots of people making small changes can really add up to something big!