I recently learned about microplastic pollution. I saw an activewear ad that said “made from recycled plastic water bottles,” and I was so confused—why are there plastic water bottles in my clothes?
It turns out that synthetic fabrics, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, are essentially plastic. And these fabrics make up about 60% of our clothing. I had NO IDEA plastics were so unassumingly woven into our clothes.
When we wash our favorite spandex workout wear (or pretty much anything that is not 100% cotton, bamboo, hemp, or silk), tiny fibers get flushed with our laundry water and end up in our oceans. Microplastics are pretty much invisible, but they account for around 85% of ocean plastic pollution (a third of that is from laundry). And we’re finding microplastics everywhere—in rainwater and soil, on arctic snow, and even in the air we breathe.
I KNOW. I couldn’t believe it either.
The European Commission’s chief scientific advisers said in a report in April: “The evidence [on the environmental and health risks of microplastics] provides grounds for genuine concern and for precaution to be exercised.” Think about it: those microplastics are ingested by animals that then become your food—plastics have entered our food chain. That’s not good.
I’m not asking you to purge your closet—let’s not be more wasteful—nor do I want to stop wearing my favorite spandex workout pants (for now). BUT, all of this information has helped me become a more conscious consumer. Now I seek out brands that use natural, safe fabrics, such as organic cotton, wool, linen, Lenzing Modal, and Tencel. I try to buy less, avoid PVC and conventional cotton, and check where my garments are being made. It also made me think about faux fur, which may be a solution to animal cruelty, but also may be toxic to animals. So I’m canceling faux and going no when it comes to fur.
While I wait for the fashion industry to get its footing in sustainability, I’m using a laundry filter to catch microplastics. There are a few methods you can choose from, in order of how well they work (according to this study):
• If you own your washing machine, you can attach a PlanetCare, Lint LUV-R, or other filter to your drain.
• If you share or use a laundromat, you can place your synthetics into a bag and discard the fibers after each wash (the garbage can is better than the ocean).
• If you share a washing machine, you can also use a Cora Ball. I just bought one and can’t wait to see how it works!
Some more laundry tips:
1. Wash at cool temperatures—heat breaks down fabrics.
2. Skip the spin cycle—all that movement breaks down fabrics faster.
3. Air-dry—synthetics dry quickly anyway.
4. Use a plant-based detergent—it’s less harsh on your clothes and the ocean.
To learn more, click here and follow @stopmicrowaste. Also follow @future__dust to learn more about responsible fashion.