Every time you wash your clothes you're destroying the ocean - Here's what to do about it

As if the plastic that you can see wasn't already a big enough issue, microplastic is filling our oceans and our food chain and worst of all, you're part of the problem. 

Every polar fleece sweater, every pair of yoga leggings, every lycra one-piece are belching out minute fragments of plastic into the natural environment. Every single time we do laundry up to 700,000 microfibre fragments can be released into the environment. A paper published in 2011 found that microfibres made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.

Globally, that means a staggering 44 million plastic grocery bags worth of microplastic waste may be entering our oceans each year through our washing machines.

Every washing machine cycle causes abrasion of clothes, removing tiny fibers too small to be caught by the machine's filter. The microscopic fibers are too small even to be picked up by treatment plants. From here, they are flushed straight through into the rivers and then the oceans where they are consumed by marine creatures like fish, crabs, lobsters and mussels. 

Microfiber recovered from sea salt. 
PIcture: Lisa Devriese/ILVO 

 

More people, more plastic

Despite global efforts, there is increasing plastic being released into the ocean each year. Synthetic fibers are favored over many natural fibers in garment manufacturing as they can be longer lasting, have more stretch, warmth or have enhanced breathability. 

The concern is that with every wash cycle, every piece of synthetic clothing is releasing more and more particles into the ocean, causing untold damage to the natural environment. 

 

So what do we do about it?

We're still a long way of a solution to stopping microplastics from contaminating our natural environment but there are some steps that we can take as individuals. 


The best solution is of course to outlaw the products that cause these microplastics but that's not looking likely. On an individual level, choosing clothing made with natural fibers like wool, bamboo and organic cotton is one of the most powerful steps you can take. 

Another solution is to use laundry bags, which are made from monofilament and made to last 6-10 times longer than regular textiles. Guppyfriend produce specially designed laundry bags designed to collect micro-fibers before they end up going into the natural environment. Another innovation is the Cora Ball, which catches microfibers in the washer itself. 

Guppyfriend laundy bag

Image: Guppyfriend

 

7 Tips for a sustainable wardrobe

  • Buy what you need. Purchase quality clothing that will last
  • Only purchase clothing made from natural fibers. Don't buy synthetic fibers or clothing containing it.
  • Buy organic. Look for certification!
  • Buy Fair Trade so that you know your clothes were made by workers in good working conditions.
  • Fill your washing machine fully
  • Try to use cold water and environmentally-friendly detergent. Laundry balls and soap nuts are earth-friendly alternatives to conventional detergents
  • Use a drying rack instead of using a tumble dryer
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