Sustainability Tip: Plastic microfibers are polluting our waters. Here’s what you can do to stop it.
Did you know that washing one load of athletic clothes could add up to 17 million plastic fibers to lakes, rivers and oceans? Athleisure is a growing clothing trend that mixes casual wear with sportswear. Materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic have helped create multi-functional, durable and practical clothing, but they have a downside.
In the past, most clothes containing these synthetic materials were used for athletic activities, but they have penetrated daily casual wear, especially in the active, athletic Vail Valley.
Most athleisure fabric is made of microfibers derived from a microplastic that is thinner than a human hair. Washing machines and wastewater treatment plants are not designed to trap the minute plastic fibers that our clothes shed during washing, and so those plastic microfibers end up in our waterways.
The fibers are tiny, but they absorb high concentrations of pollutants and toxins before they reach the oceans, where sea organisms such as plankton mistake them for food. Then, larger organisms eat the plankton and pass plastic microfibers up the food chain.
Toxic plastic fibers have been found in mussels and fish served at dinner tables. They have been found in the air, rivers, soil, drinking water, beer and even table salt.
It’s still Plastic Free July in Eagle County and across the globe. The organization Plastic Free July is working worldwide to reduce plastic pollution by encouraging participants to eliminate their plastic use for the month of July.
Here are three tips to help reduce plastic microfiber pollution and prevent animal and human consumption of these fibers.
1. Pay attention to how you wash your clothes. Use lower water temperature, fill the washing machine, use a slower spin cycle and wash your clothes in a bag designed to trap microfibers. Air drying rather than tumble drying will also help. A less aggressive wash cycle like this one will reduce the amount of microfibers shedding.
2. Keep your clothes longer. Most shedding occurs during the first couple of washes, so avoid buying new synthetic clothes. It’s good for the environment and your wallet.
3. Be an educated shopper. Polyester fleeces are the largest emitter of microfibers. So, consider buying wool instead, and buy high-quality clothes that last longer. Invest in products such as Patagonia’s Guppyfriend Washing Bag and Cora Ball that capture microplastics in the washer and prevent them from escaping into the water stream.
Stephen Beane is the Walking Mountains Science Center Actively Green intern. Email him at email@example.com.