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Fashion & Ocean Pollution: What Is the True Cost?

In recent years, the fashion industry has come under scrutiny due to the tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill. People have become aware of the disastrous impact of fashion on the environment from depleting non-renewable gases to using massive quantities of energy, chemicals, and water.

The production of a garment has a huge impact on the environment which doesn’t stop once the garment has been produced. Washing your clothes in a washing machine can pollute the ocean.

The fashion industry in the UK is worth more than £32 billion with a huge percentage of that coming from the ‘fast fashion’ industry. Fast fashion refers to cheaply and quickly made garments. Products that are available at low prices which make it easy for consumers to replace regularly.

Traditionally, the fashion industry would release a new trend seasonally, now they’re as often as monthly. This leads consumers to buying more clothes than they need.

Are you aware that the cheap materials chosen in fast fashion production contribute to the ever-increasing amount of plastic waste in our oceans?

How does fashion lead to plastic waste in our oceans?

Images of plastic bottles and plastic bags littering beaches has raised the profile of ocean pollution. However, visible plastic only represents a small amount of the problem, the rest comes from the microfibres produced by the fashion industry.

Microfibres are tiny strands of plastic that shed off synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon when clothes are washed. Microfibres are too small to be caught by the washing machine filter and are often too small to be absorbed by wastewater treatment plants, which leads them to ending up in the ocean.

Many marine conservationists have raised concerns about marine life mistaking micro plastics and microfibres for food. Tiny sea creatures have ingested the plastic which then works it way up through the food chain eventually ending up in the human food system and our bodies. The plastic often carries harmful bacteria which could affect our health in a detrimental way.

What can I do to minimise my contribution to these issues?


Embrace slow fashion and try to buy more sustainably where you can. Avoid buying items cheaply which won’t last, and invest in higher quality pieces which will keep for longer. Create a capsule wardrobe to limit your purchasing and to ensure you only buy pieces you will get multiple wears out of.

By investing in higher quality pieces, you are less likely to need to buy new clothes regularly, which will reduce the number of microfibres ending up in the ocean. New garments release twice as many particles compared to old garments, so be sure to try to repair a garment if it is missing a button or has a hole, rather than repurchasing another item.


Many brands are starting to take responsibility for their impact on the environment. For example, H&M are designing yarns and fabrics which minimise microfibre shedding as well as looking at alternative materials. Before buying from a certain brand, take the time to research a brand’s eco-credentials and choose to buy from brands that use natural or synthetic fibres and recycled materials.

There are many apps and websites which provide information on different brands including their impact on the environment. I personally love the app ‘Good On You’ and use it frequently when visiting different brands.

Air dry

Not only does washing clothes in a washing machine release lots of microfibres into the ocean, but so does using a tumble dryer. A tumble dryer may seem the easiest way to dry clothes, especially if it is raining outside (which is usually the case in the UK), but the process of tumble drying causes lots of unintentional shredding of microfibres which could potentially end up in the ocean.

Air drying your clothes on a washing line or a maiden is a much cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to dry your clothes.


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