Written by Becky Price
Whenever you’re hanging the washing out on the line, trying on that new stylish outfit, or ironing those crinkled shirts, plastic might not be the first thing to come to mind. But it struck me one Sunday afternoon that the very clothes I was wearing, might be made from plastics - microfibres.
Numerous studies have shown that synthetic fibres actually make up the majority of the micro-plastics found in our oceans. Microfibres from synthetics such as polyester and nylon, are minuscule sources of pollution that can make their way through sewage treatment plants and into our waterways. Whilst natural fibres such as cotton or wool are biodegradable, unfortunately synthetic materials are not. Alarmingly, they also have a tendency to bind together with harmful chemicals and pollutants found in waste water, such as pesticides or flame retardants.
What’s even more devastating, is that plankton and many other small organisms have been known to eat these microfibres and so make their way into the food chain. Yep, that’s right! It’s entirely possible that you’ve consumed microfibres at some point in your life, as researchers have found high numbers of these fibres inside fish and shellfish.
We are yet to understand the full implications these fibres may have on our aquatic environment or what that might mean for our health. However, we know a great deal more about the truly invisible pollutants, such as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). These have been widely used in the manufacturing industry for many years, including textile manufacturing. Perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoro-octane are two of the most widely studied PFCs, and have been linked to cancer in humans. Heck, they have even found PFCs in the blood of polar bears! Scary, we know. It seems that researchers are less concerned with the microfibres themselves, but rather their ability to absorb these harmful chemicals. We don’t want that do we?!
So what can YOU do to prevent them from polluting our natural world (and us!)?
- CHOOSE NATURAL FIBRES, NOT SYNTHETIC
Whenever something is made, it has some kind of impact on our planet - even if it’s made sustainably. But to reduce this impact, one of the most effective things you can do is to stop buying synthetic textiles; and instead purchase natural (and preferably organic) biodegradable textiles such as cotton, bamboo, hemp and wool. Doing this might cost you a little more, but it is the more sustainable choice. BearMade bags for example, are made with dry-waxed cotton canvas and use a wax that’s biodegradable and won’t harm our planet. They use low impact dyeing methods and do not discharge any chemicals into the environment, plus, all of their cotton is delivered via the sea making their products a more eco-friendly choice.
- INVEST IN A FIBRE-CATCHING BAG
OK, so you’ve decided you will no longer purchase items with synthetic materials, but what about the clothing you already have? Well, you could invest in a fibre-catching laundry bag! These bags are designed to reduce the amount of fibres that are shed from your apparel and catch any that do. When you use them, you will actually be able to see some of the ‘invisible’ pollutants.
- WASH SYNTHETIC CLOTHING LESS, FOR A SHORTER TIME & ON A COLD TEMPERATURE
Washing your clothing less often and for a shorter time period will reduce the amount of microfibres shed, and will make your items last longer. While you’re at it, choose a lower temperature to washing clothing if possible, as higher temperatures can increase the amount of shedding during a wash, so the colder the better!
- SPEAK UP
So maybe you want to give up synthetics but your favourite brand doesn’t use natural materials… It’s time to speak up! Tell designers that you would like to see them using more natural eco-friendly materials instead of the synthetic clothing that is polluting our oceans.
- EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Education is one of the most powerful ways in which we can fight the issue of plastic pollution in general, but how many people actually know about microfibres and their impacts on our environment? It’s time to learn about the issue and teach others about the problem. Start by watching ‘The Story of Stuff’s’ microfibre movie and by sharing this blog post!