Apparel, Laundry & the Plastic Pollution Problem

Plastic pollution is an enormous problem in our world today. For many of us, the idea of plastic pollution conjures up images of plastic baggies and bottles floating in the ocean - and these things truly are a huge problem. But what if we told you that an often overlooked contributor to the plastic pollution problem is the apparel industry?


The Problem

Sad but true: Apparel is a big player in plastic pollution. One 2011 study found that 85% of plastic pollution on shorelines around the world are microfibers. Microplastics are “tiny plastic particles that result from…the breakdown of larger plastics.” Microfibers, which are a kind of microplastic, originate from synthetic clothing fibers such as polyester (also known as PET), acrylic, spandex, rayon, nylon, and more. This poses a significant issue with the washing and upkeep of these clothing items. When we place the synthetic materials in the washing machine, they shed microplastic fibers into the water, which then head down the drain during the spin cycle, and ultimately end up in our water supply. In fact, one study estimates that microfiber shedding during machine cycles could amount to 793 pounds per year per person.

Plastics are problematic because they are not biodegradable, and microplastics are even more problematic because their infinitesimal size allows them to be anywhere and everywhere in our environment—from our freshwater and oceans to our drinking water. Due to their tiny size and prevalence, once they are released into the environment it is difficult to remove them, so prevention is crucial. Standard washing machines do not currently offer a direct filter solution to this problem, but there are devices that can be utilized as a catchment for microfiber sheds. In-drum products such as the Guppyfriend bag and external filters like the XFiltra offer potential solutions. A recent study found that the XFiltra external filter reduced microfiber pollution by 73 percent, while the Guppyfriend catchment bag reduced the amount by 54 percent.

Tips to Reduce Plastic Pollution from Apparel:

1. Use either an external filter or a filter bag.

You can help capture microplastics before they go down the drain. Some good options (not MADE SAFE certified) are:

    1. Guppyfriend
    2. XFiltra
    3. Cora Ball

2. Look for natural fibers.

When purchasing new items, look for clothing made from natural materials like organic cotton, wool, linen, silk, and hemp. Check out MADE SAFE’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion for ideas.

3. De-odorize without washing.

Combat odors with methods other than washing. Try using cheap vodka mixed with water: Spray on clothes to eliminate smelly bacteria from sweat. Another favorite of ours is using certified MADE SAFE® essential oils, diluted, to freshen up fabrics.

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