Millions of microscopic plastic fibres are released into our water systems every day and are polluting our aquatic ecosystems from our synthetic clothing. How do we stop it?
Beach season is drawing near. Time to bust out those old workout clothes and hit the gym! Just in time to show off your fabulous beach bod. But when you reach the beach, you might be disappointed to see the amount of pollution that plaguing our water systems. World Ocean Day was June 8 and the UN is holding an Ocean Conference in New York City. Its purpose is to discuss how to help save our oceans from pollution and global warming. Researchers are warning of higher amounts of plastic pollution in our oceans. From water bottles to microbeads, and now microplastic. The source of microplastics? Our clothes.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are microscopic strings of plastic. They come out of our synthetic clothes every time they are washed. They are small enough to escape machine washer filters, and water treatment plants. Microplastics find their way into our lakes, rivers, and oceans.
The journal of Environmental Science & Technology published in 2011 how trillions of microplastic particles ended up in our water. The findings showed “that a single garment can produce over 1900 fibers per wash”, with fleece as the worst offender. Researchers concluded that sewage from washing clothes was the main culprit behind the pollution.
The Problem with Microplastics
So what if there are hundreds of millions of plastic microfibres polluting our oceans? They’re small enough they can’t be seen by the naked eye so what’s the problem? The problem lies in the fact that because they are plastic, they do not bio-degrade. Once released in water, they accumulate and absorb chemical wastes and pollutants. Sea life is ingesting those pollutants, which would eventually enter in our food chain.
What You Can Do
- Buy natural and organic clothing:
Avoiding synthetic materials such as fleece, polyester and nylons can reduce your impact on the environment. Clothing made from cotton, linen, or hemp use fibres that will bio-degrade. Many companies are either unaware or unwilling to admit that their clothing is polluting our ecosystems. Your money speaks to clothing companies.
Wash less and only with a full load (bonus points for a front loaded washer):Try to wash less often to reduce the amount of plastics we are releasing into our water system. Friction and heat causes more fibres to become loose and filter its way into our systems. Make sure you are washing with a full load in cold water or better yet, hand wash.
- Use a GuppyFriend bag:
These bags can be used by putting clothes inside and then throwing into the washer. They will collect and trap all the plastic microfibres before being released into our water systems. The bag can then be collected and disposed of in the trash. Not the best solution, but better than nothing. You can grab one of these microfibre catching bags here. They retail for around $20-$30.
There is no easy solution for microplastics and the problem has only barely been talked about. More research needs to be done, but for every day that we wait our oceans are getting more and more polluted. Ideally, we need to use less synthetics in our clothes, and our machine washers should be equipped with the ability to filter out these fibres. Patagonia has been researching the impact of their clothing line with the environment and has released the GuppyFriend bag, but outside of that, no real change is on offer.
If you’d like to help, you can join the cause. The Story of Stuff Project has been leading the change, most notably with campaigning and winning for the ban of microbeads in California in 2015. I highly recommend you follow their blog.