• Laura Hilditch

How Washing your Clothes is Polluting the Ocean

Fashion is loved by so many as it lets us express ourselves, try new styles and be creative. But nothing hates the fashion industry more than the environment. More precisely, the ocean is the primary hater for all things voguish.


Our clothes are made from around two-thirds of synthetic fibres including nylon, acrylic, and polyester which are all made from plastics.


Every time we wash these clothes hundreds of thousands of microfibres (these are tiny fibres that are no bigger than five millimetres in length) are washed off our clothes. The majority of these are microplastics. Washing machines have filters that try to prevent these microplastics from going through water systems and into the ocean.


However, their miniature size proves too difficult to be collected. Clothes are the single largest contributor to microplastics entering the ocean with an approximate 500,000 tonnes entering globally.


But what is the harm of microplastics on the ocean?


Sea creatures like plankton are mistaking these small plastics as a source of food. This is resulting in them entering our food chain as other small fish consume plankton as their primary source of food. This dining on plastic pollution is moving up the food chain which has resulted in cases of the fibres being found in mussels and fish that are meant to be served as our food.


Our ocean takes up 71% of our planet so this issue should not be disregarded. If the fashion industry continues at the rate that it is now, then between 2015 and 2050 alone there will be an added 22 million tonnes of microfibres that will end up in our ocean.


What can be done to help?


France had become the first to introduce a law that, by 2025, all new washing machines will have a microfibre filter. These are used to combat synthetic clothes from polluting their waterways. This is a huge step in getting the effects that washing machines have on the ocean to be taken seriously. A more permanent solution would have this law put in place globally which would drastically help reduce the plastic pollution.


This does not mean we cannot make changes in our daily lives to further reduce polluting the ocean. You may have already bought your metal straws to protect the turtles, but it is now time to be cautious of plastic waste coming from your clothes. Here are some simple ways you can be more environmentally friendly with your fashion.


Keep your clothes for longer.


New clothes are likely to shed more plastic than your older ones and repeatedly washed clothes. Therefore, frequently buying a new wardrobe will be damaging the ocean. We recommend investing in higher quality clothing to ensure the wear of them lasts longer. Or before you throw out unwanted clothes, try selling, donating, or revamping them into something new.


A new way to wash.


Every time you do a wash load it releases 700,000 microfibres. The first tip here is to try and reduce the number of washes loads you do. Filling your washing machine up will not only mean you can do fewer washes, but it also causes there to be less friction which is shredding the microfibres off your clothes.

Choosing the right setting for doing your laundry is also key.


Studies have shown that doing a quicker wash cycle and at a lower temperature will significantly reduce the number of microfibres released by 30% as it is less aggressive meaning less friction.


Microfibre filter washing bags have been designed to capture the microfibres and help reduce them from even shredding from your clothes. Placing your clothes in these bags have also been proven to keep your garments soft due to the fewer fibre losses.


Similar to this a cora ball which can be thrown into your washing machine with your laundry. It will collect and trap microfibres to stop them entering the water system. After a few washes there will be a big enough build up that you can grab and dispose of.


Using a tumble dryer may be an easier way to dry your clothes but air drying them is much more environmentally friendly. The aggressive process of tumbling synthetic fabrics causes a high right of unintentional shredding of microfibres.


What about the future?


While these tips on washing your laundry are to help prevent the microfibres from coming off your clothes, it will not be able to fully stop it from happening. One of the biggest step forwards will be from following the footsteps of France and create a legislation that will make washing machine manufacturers fit microfibre filters into new machines.


You can further your support by signing Marine Conservation Society petition here. This petition is to ask the UK government to get this law in place as they aim to keep the ocean healthy and protected.