The Ocean is the origin of all life on Earth. Although covering 70% of the planet’s surface, only 20% of its depths have been discovered. Thousands of species of fish, coral, and aquatic plants coexistence there to create an ecosystem that fundamentally regulates the Earth’s climate, producing over half of the oxygen we breathe. This ancient and mysterious underwater world, therefore, plays an unquestionably pivotal part in supporting life on Earth- as scary as football fish and sharks can be.
But many industrial revolutions and growing corporate businesses later, and the oceans have become a cheap and easy means to dispose of unwanted wastes. Plastic bottles, pesticides, and other non-biodegradable objects now outnumber organic sea life, and it’s fair to say that without fish having litter pickers or mops, that their homes are becoming increasingly inhospitable the more our industries grow.
Waking up to read about another oil spillage in the Atlantic Ocean has become almost trivial, but what many of us remain unaware of is the specific yet enormous damage of the fashion industry.
With the impacts of fashion’s throwaway culture, microfibres from clothes, and waste products from cloth dye’s being devastating, this article aims to enlighten both the positive and negative influences that the fashion industry is having on the sustainability of our oceans. Additionally, since the United Nations has made ‘Life Underwater’ one of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), this article also aims to suggest how we can collectively act more sustainably.
Ultimately, we are all guilty of our environmental ignorance, but supporting companies who act to improve the quality of our oceans is a step we can all make.
Microfibres- What are they?
Microfiber is defined as a synthetic fiber (aka one that is derived from petroleum) that is extremely small in diameter. The reason why microfibres have such a devastating impact on the ocean is because of their presence in all clothes- both new and second-hand. Avoiding high street stores for charity shops, therefore, isn’t going to stop the relentless release of microfibres every time you wash your clothes. When released into the ocean, they are becoming increasingly harmful to small aquatic organisms that ingest them.
Over a third (35 percent) of all microplastics released into the world's oceans are from synthetic textiles. Polyester, the major synthetic fiber, commands a 62 percent market share and sheds around six times more microplastic fibers than nylon. To put that into context, between half a million and a million tons of plastic microfibres are discharged into wastewater each year from the washing of synthetic clothes.
That’s heavy stuff!
How can we avoid microfibres?
Being aware of microfibres is the first step. Knowing that excessively washing our clothes is a leading contributor to plastic build-up in our oceans is crucial.
Be smelly! The harm that over-washing your clothes is causing to the ocean is far greater than the occasional look you get from the person sitting next to you on the bus. When people start to move away from you, that’s when it's time to wash your clothes!
Fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool, hemp, viscose, and Tencel, do not shed plastic microfibres. Although conventional cotton is responsible for around 25% of the world’s pesticide use and enormous amounts of water, shopping responsibly is still a step in the right direction.
Secondly, there are numerous eco-friendly companies that are funding research and development to clean up the waste in our waters. Ocean Blue Project, for example, is a small non-profit organisation aiming to help restore beaches, oceans, and rivers through clean-up projects and education. Other big companies such as Patagonia are renowned for their efforts to help organisations such as OBP to develop their environmental causes. In this case, they helped OBP obtain over 60 professional volunteers since March 2021.
Just keep swimming!
So when buying new clothes, do your research. Do you need new clothes or are you just fulfilling the thrill of buying new stuff? Does this company promote a sustainable motive and how? What materials do they use and what is the manufacturing process? If you’re finding it hard to source these details from a company, it’s likely that they’re not doing a great deal of environmental work!
At the end of the day, the fish on your plate is fundamentally a long-distanced cousin that didn’t make the migration to land, and the health of his home is synonymous with the health of ours, and the clothes we wear play a central role in this. Now you’re aware, there’s no reason to make a change.