We have all heard about the problem of microplastics in our oceans. Tragic images of whales caught in plastic fishing nets or turtles choked up on plastic straws and shopping bags are all over the internet. But this visible trash is thought to represent just 1% of all the plastic in our oceans.
Plastic never goes away. Scientists estimate that every year between 4 and 12 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean. These plastics break down into tiny particles called microplastics which are then mistakenly ingested by sea life and eventually ingested by humans when we eat seafood.
But WHERE does it come from?
But did you know that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean actually come from our clothing?
Every time we wash clothes made of synthetic fibers millions of tiny plastic particles known as microfibers are released into the water from the wash. While our wastewater treatment facilities are able to catch some of these particles the vast majority are so small that they pass right through and go directly into our rivers and oceans.
In the United States the particles that are captured end up being released to the land through agriculture when this wastewater "sludge" is sold to farmers as fertilizer. At that point the tiny plastic microfibers are being dumped right onto the soil where our food is growing, our animals are grazing, and our children are playing.
These synthetic microfibers are particularly dangerous because they are so small (less than 5mm in diameter) that they are very difficult to clean up and are readily absorbed and consumed by marine life, plant life, and land animals. Microfibers can poison the food chain from the bottom to the top. They have been found around the world, even in remote locations, from the Alps to the Arctic.
Our clothing sheds plastic into the air too.
A University of Plymouth study showed that one person can release more than 300 million plastic microfibers into the environment per year by washing their clothes but more than 900 million to the air by wearing the garments.
Plastic microfibers are not just found in the air outside. They can also be found indoors, in your home. Of all the floating dust in a household 33% of it is microplastics from textiles. We breathe it into our lungs, and it settles onto the food we eat.
The world of plastic fast fashion:
75% of today’s clothing (fast fashion) is made from plastic – polyester, nylon, lycra, rayon, acrylic, acetate, or spandex. It is the microfiber craze! Half of all plastic that has EVER existed was made in the past 13 years. 68 million tons of plastic was produced for the textile industry in 2018.
Unfortunately, clothing made from recycled plastic sheds even more particles than textiles made from new plastic.
What can we DO?
1. Choose to purchase textiles made from 100% natural fibers (preferably used).
2. Buy fewer clothes and when you do, choose garments that will last a long time.
3. MEND your clothes to make them last longer and keep them out of the landfill.
4. Learn about your own closet by taking stock of what the clothes you wear are actually made from.
5. Check out the Clothing Guide from Fibershed to learn more about clothing made from natural fibers and where to source them locally.
1. Wash less frequently. Often clothing can simply be refreshed by hanging in the sunshine.
2. Wash your clothing in cold water.
3. Fill the load. A full wash reduces friction between items and helps reduce shedding.
4. Reduce spin speeds. A faster spin dries clothes faster but creates more friction.
5. Air dry rather than tumble dry. Putting your clothes in the dryer releases a second round of microfibers into the air.
1. Educate yourself. Learn more about how textiles effect our environment by reading the linked articles above and exploring on your own.
2. Educate your family and friends about the environmental impact of textiles and help them learn to make better choices.
3. Educate your students and give them skills and tools to make healthy clothing choices.
1. Get involved in your area to support farmers of natural fibers and creators of natural textiles.
2. Support legislation that supports sustainable textiles.
Join us for our online international February handwork conference to learn more about innovation and environmental sustainability in handwork February 20, 21, & 22, 2022.