Your Work Out Wear & Plastics: Under The Microscope

Last month one of the European ecommerce platforms on which we are featured banned all polyester clothing- unless it is recycled. So we were wondering if this is the beginning of the end for synthetic fabrics? Alexandra Reece investigates.

Consumers have long been aware of the polluting impact of waste materials on the environment, but what if our clothes pose just as big a problem?

It was just a few years ago that consumers were made aware of the devastating effects their cosmetics and cleaning products could have on marine life in the form of microbeads, with a sales ban being enforced by the British government only in June 2018. Now with increased discussion and scientific findings about microplastic, it seems that consumers can no longer ignore the devastating impact their wardrobes can have on the environment.

The Plastic Soup Foundation, the world’s leading plastic pollution NGO, have been instrumental in highlighting the problem of plastic waste and microplastics in our water. They estimate that 8 billion kilograms of plastic are dumped in the sea every year1. Through changes in our consumption habits we can reduce this terrifying trend.

35% of the microplastic released into the world’s oceans originates from synthetic textiles2. Each time a synthetic fabric garment is washed, up to 700,000 microscopic fibres (microplastics) travel into our oceans. There are an estimated 1.4 million trillion microfibres in our oceans, equalling 200 million microfibres for each person on the planet3. Plastic is able to absorb toxins, such as pesticides or organic pollutants like PCBs, causing poisoning, infertility and genetic disruption in natural life processes of marine animals4. Dissected fish have been found with fibres weaving through their gastrointestinal tract, killed by an abundance of pollutants in waters that are meant to sustain them5.

Current wastewater treatment facilities in the UK have not been designed to capture microscopic particles, meaning microplastics pass through sewage treatment and end up in our waterways and oceans6. Furthermore, when sewage sludge is used as fertiliser any trapped microplastics pollute the soil, and are eventually carried into waterways due to soil run-off. When microplastics enter waterways they also enter the food chain, being eaten by marine life due to their small size, and eventually end up on our dinner plates – toxins and all.

Clearly then, our consumption and cleaning habits have a lot to answer for!

Yet, synthetic fabrics play an important part in our wardrobes. They are great materials for active wear, yoga garments, and swimwear – no natural alternative works as well. But why is it that Yoga practictioners, swimmers and gym goers are keen to monitor their diet and execerise, yet not concerned with how they are poisoning both the enviroment and themselves with their workout wear?

Its vitally important important to find ways of comsuming and caring for such fabrics sustainably, which RubyMoon does so well. Here are some top tips to reduce micro plastics from our clothing’s wash & wear.

Buy clothes made from recycled synthetic fabric, instead of virgin synthetics.

  • It takes 30% less energy to make clothes from recycled plastics than virgin synthetics, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and use of chemicals7.
  • RubyMoon helps to shrink the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste that is washed into the ocean each year by recycling these into garments8. By doing so, RubyMoon reduces the number of marine life that are victims of plastic pollution, including sea turtles who consume plastic waste, causing blockage in the gut, leading to ulceration and death.
  • Plastic fishing nets, that are recycled into RubyMoon clothing, when left in waterways cause harm to marine life by choking aquatic creatures or becoming tangled in corals. These fishing nets leach more microplastic into the sea than the compacted yarns they are turned into.

Invest in quality clothing.

  • The fast fashion industry is a large contributor to the microplastic problem as cheaper fabrics shed their fibres more easily5.
  • The quality fabric used by RubyMoon contains well spun fibres, making it less susceptible to shedding.

Wash clothing less often, in large loads, using a front-load washing machine.

  • Air your clothes before deciding whether they need a wash, or spot-wash garments that are dirty in a specific place.
  • By filling up your washing machine with larger loads, less friction results between the clothes so fewer microfibres are released9.
  • Studies in the US have shown that polyester clothes shed more fibres when cleaned in a top-loading washing machine due to increased levels of friction, so try to do your washing in a front-load machine10.

Install a filter on your washing machine drainage pipe.

  • An average washing load can release 500,000 fibres from polyester and over 700,000 fibres from acrylics.4
  • PlanetCare is creating an effective washing machine filter to remove microfibres from wastewater before they enter our water supply, without the use of chemicals.4
  • PlanetCare’s mission is to create solutions that are practical, affordable and accessible. They have created built-in filters, add-on filters, and industrial filters for washing machines4

References:

  1. Plastic Soup Foundation ‘No plastic waste in our water!’ https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/
  2. My Green Pod (2018) ‘Laundry and Microplastics’ https://www.mygreenpod.com/articles/laundry-and-microplastics/
  3. The Story of Stuff Project (2017) ‘The Story of Microfibres’ YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqkekY5t7KY
  4. PlanetCare (2018) ‘PlanetCare filter’ https://planetcare.org/en/
  5. Messinger (2016) ‘How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  6. Fauna & Flora International (2018) ‘Marine pollution from microplastic fibres’ https://api.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Marine-pollution-from-microplastic-fibres.pdf
  7. Ethically Sustained (2013) ‘Polyester and recycled polyester’ WordPress https://ethicallysustained.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/polyester-and-recycled-polyester/
  8. Mambra (2017) ‘How is plastic ruining the ocean?’ Marine Environment https://www.marineinsight.com/environment/how-is-plastic-ruining-the-ocean/
  9. Plastic Pollution Coalition (2017) ’15 ways to stop microfibre pollution now’ https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2017/3/2/15-ways-to-stop-microfiber-pollution-now
  10. Lynggaard (2017) ‘Recycled polyester pros and cons’ The New Fashion Norm http://thenewfashionnorm.com/2017/03/23/recycled-polyester-pros-and-cons/
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