What are microfibers? 3 Solutions to Plastic Pollution

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Since when is washing your clothes dangerous to the environment?

I am sitting here on this snowy spring day in my NorthFace hoodie that keeps me nice and warm.

As I am learning about the subject of ” What Are Microfibers” and are we eating our clothes?

What are Microfibers

I have to look at the tag of my jumper (Australian for sweater) , and in tiny letters, it states 53% cotton and 47% polyester. OK, I know that polyester is some form of plastic, right? Let’s tackle the question…

What are microfibers?

This was very new to me, my fleece jumper is made out of lots of tiny plastic strings, also known as microfibers. These microfibers are man-made long-chain polymers. Every time I wash my synthetic clothes, they can shed up to 250 000 microfibers.

Whaaat?

That is a lot of really tiny plastic strings that just get washed out.

These little microfibers are causing huge damage to the world’s oceans. They are too small to be collected in the treatment plants and end up in our ocean, where they act like a sponge.

Absorbing more toxic material and binding it to them until they get eaten by microorganisms, then fish and, eventually, they end up on our plate.

Ugh, that doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?

The story of stuff has a great video about the subject, please go ahead and watch it.

What are the health problems?

What we do know is that the chemicals used to make plastic act as endocrine interrupters and can lead to weight gain and hormone imbalance.

The Journal of the Yale School of Environmental Studies:

There is also now abundant research that links BPA and phthalate exposure to such human health concerns as deformities of the male and female genitals; premature puberty in females; decreased sperm quality; and increases in breast and prostate cancers, infertility, miscarriages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergies and neurological problems, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It is known that plastic from food packaging can leach into food and enter the body.

Phthalates are considered to be especially harmful to men and boys, especially those exposed in utero. They are linked to immune system impairment, reduced testosterone, infertility in men and many other problems.

Which clothes are shedding microfibers into the environment?

Generally speaking, all clothes are losing microfibers during the wash. But only synthetic ones like Polyester, Lycra, Spandex, Fleece, Acrylic, Nylon, etc. are dangerous to the environment.

They don’t biodegrade and instead add to the ever-increasing problem of microplastic pollution in our world oceans.

What are Microfibers

According to an article posted on the Algalita marine research website:

Although we don’t usually think of polyester fabrics as plastic per se, polyester is nonetheless a plastic material synthesized from crude oil and natural gas. And, like other plastics, polyester is a long polymer chain, making it non-biodegradable

These microfibers are a real problem. Strangely, when we did our research, we couldn’t find many solutions to the problem.

One study from 2011, led by Australian ecotoxicologist Mark Browne, found that microfibers made up 85 percent of man-caused shoreline debris.

Companies like Patagonia who, pride themselves in making products out of recyclable material, did their own studies on the matter 5 years after Mark Browne urged them to help. In short, they said, “All clothing has an environmental impact. We should wash them less and put them into special bags.”

I think the industry needs to come up with better solutions than this one, but it’s a start.

Do you think companies like Nike and The North Face need to be made more responsible for the products they are selling?

Here are some solutions:

Here are a few that we found:

1. Coraball

  • is the world’s first laundry ball to help collect microfibers. You simply throw it in with your washing and it collects the tiny fibers similar to the coral reef cleaning the ocean water. So they claim on their website, but after doing some more research and reading other people’s reviews, it turns out that the coraball is a bit like a hole in a bucket. It doesn’t work.

It collects a third of your fibers, They are made from recycled plastic and should last for many years to come. If you are done with it, contact coraball and they will take it back and make a new one out of it.

That’s all nice and good but unfortunately just throwing a plastic ball in with your washing doesn’t quite work that well. Sure it will catch some hair and fibers but microfibers?

2. Guppyfriend

what are microfibers
  • The other product we have come across is the guppyfriend, which is a laundry bag made to collect 80-90 % of the fibers shed from your clothes. You put your polyester or synthetic garments into the bag and wash it as normal.

Now I have been using this one myself for several months, and I get into a bit more detail in this article here. But plain simple, it works.

You can buy the bag from Patagonia if you live outside of Europe. Otherwise, you can get it from the guys at langbrett. They are also in the process of developing a filter for your washing machine. Which I think is the smartest solution. Plus, their website looks awesome. It’s totally worth checking out.

3. Lint LUV-R

Next up, we have the Lint LUV-R an external washing machine filter.

This is the washing machine filter I was looking for. I think the price at $140 USD is a bit too much compared to the laundry bag at Euro 29.75  and the coraball at $29.99 USD, but it is also supposed to keep your plumbing clean. The decision is totally yours.

I personally will go and buy the guppyfriend first also because it is supposed to extend the lifetime of your textiles since it protects them in the drum of your washing machine.

How to dispose of it?

At the moment, the only solution is to put it in the trash. But that’s better than in the ocean. Make sure when you empty the laundry bag that you don’t wash it out in your sink that would send all the microfibers back into the sea.

Just felt the need to say this here, it’s so easy to sometimes do these things out of habit.

Take Action!

Please go ahead and sign the petition to stop microfiber plastic pollution at the guys from The Story of Stuff.

By signing the petition, you call on clothing brands to:

  • Publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the pollution threat that microfibers pose
  • Commit to investments of time and resources to investigate and test potential Solutions
  • Share what they learn with each other and the public.

Once you and thousands of other Story of Stuff Community members sign on to this petition, we’ll present your signatures to the largest clothing brands in the world, inviting them to attend a summit organized by the Story of Stuff Project.

The summit will assess research, propose solutions, and generate timelines for systemic action to solve microfiber pollution.

We will also ask these companies for specific commitments so that we can objectively gauge progress and engage in serious and constructive conversations aimed at ending microfiber pollution.

So what’s the solution?

First and foremost, we need to change what we consume. Buy natural clothes, they feel better and they don’t harm the environment. There are so many options, like Alpaca Wool, Bamboo and try to buy organic cotton, it’s not only better for the environment but also for the farmers. Then there is hemp, ramie, linen, and silk.

As you can see there are a lot of options. Some articles might be harder to find like sportswear and undies but keep an eye open, maybe we start a zero waste man underwear line 🙂

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