The clothes you are wearing right now probably have more plastic in them than you realise. We imagine plastic as a bottle of Coca-Cola or a carrier bag. Clothes have been mass produced with polyester, nylon, and many more plastic materials since the 1950's.
Since then, the billions of clothes produced have been washed billions of times. Therefore, tiny pieces of plastic microfibres get washed down the drain. Finally landing into treatment plants and worryingly, back into our water supply. The effects of this phenomenon have yet to be seen on humans, however, animals have not been so lucky. The fashion industry's neglectful attitudes towards plastic microfiber environmental damage are leading us towards an ever growing climate disaster. So, what do you need to know to be more educated and aware on this small in size yet hugely destructive problem?
Plastic Microfibres Damaging Effect on the Environment
Shockingly, 64% of all new materials are made of plastic and with every wash, more damage is done. Up to 17 million plastic microfibers are passed into treatment plants and subsequently into our oceans with each wash. Consequently, this pollutes and destroys our oceans further, and only brings about the tragic end of our delicate eco-systems sooner.
Some brands may falsely try to persuade you they are environmentally friendly. They do this by marketing the polyester in your clothes as being made from recycled plastics. However, the fact they are made from recycled produce does not prevent the harmful microfibres from escaping when the product is washed. The damage caused by the microfibres to the environment exacerbates the climate crisis and pollutes ecosystems.
Plastic Microfibres Damaging Effect on Wildlife
When the microfibres escape from our clothes into the oceans, many small sea creatures, such as plankton, mistake them for food. The plankton ingest the microfibres and then are eaten by bigger fish. Therefore, the poisonous plastic is transferred up the food chain. Fish we eat as humans, such as cod and salmon, can be contaminated by the harmful microfibres. The damage to the sea life can include the blockage of nutrients being absorbed by food. As a consequence, the sea life suffer from an impaired digestive system. A shocking 31% of whales have been found to have microfibers in their digestive system, originating from plankton which most likely came from the pollution from your washed clothes.
How Can We Prevent This Environmental Damage?
There are several ways we can stop microfibers from polluting our sea life and environment. Below are a few ideas to help you be more conscious about this issue:
One very useful way of protecting the oceans from microfibres is by using a filter bag. The microfibres cannot pass through the small filters in the bag. This has a huge impact of plastic pollution as the fibres cannot enter the water supply. It also gives you the freedom to machine wash all your microfibres filled clothes.
Beware of the brands which partake in the practice of 'greenwashing'. This is when companies purposely purchase new bottles to recycle instead of paying to recycle already used bottles. The microfibres cycle continues and further ecological harm is caused as new bottles are used to make clothes and the old plastics are left to rot. 'Greenwashing' is used to prey on our joint passion for eco-friendly consumerism and is a form of manipulation. Make sure you research the brands you purchase from to ensure they use real recycled plastics in the production of their clothes.
Try to buy clothes that do not need to be machine washed. This cuts off the problem at its source, as if you hand wash clothes then it greatly reduces the microfibres pollution. Some good choices to remove microfibres from circulation are coats, and bags made from recycled plastics.
The next Steps in Preventing Plastic Microfibre Damage
The issue of plastic microfibres environmental damage is horrific. So what can you do next? To put it simply, we must continue our ecological struggle and force the fashion industry to do more research into how to avoid microfibres pollution.
In addition, be sure to call out brands which 'greenwash' their marketing and attempt to present themselves as eco-friendly. Spread awareness, buy a filter bag, and if possible, avoid buying new plastic based clothes. For more information, check out this in depth article on ocean pollution and microfibers on Mindless.