This month we are celebrating Plastic Free July, a monthly long challenge to reduce the amount of plastics we use. What’s that got to do with making clothes you ask? Well, it turns out there’s plastic in our fabric, minute pieces of plastic that will persist in the environment long into the future. So for Plastic Free July we are sharing ways makers can reduce their plastic footprint.
How big is the problem?
Clothing is the number one source of primary microplastics, contributing to over 34% of the global total. And the number is set to grow with global production of synthetics becoming a larger proportion of production year on year.
The version of microplastics found in our clothing are called microfibres. Scientists are finding this tiny debris from our cloth everywhere; in the soil, oceans, drinking water and food chains. The research to date is finding that the asymmetrical and sticky make up of microfibres makes them a particular problem for animals.
Where have microfibres been found:
- drinking water worldwide
- oceans and waterways
- animals guts
What problems do they cause?
While we don’t yet fully understand the implications for human health, we do understand the following risks:
- microfibres leach toxic chemicals from production into the environment and they also readily adsorb chemicals from the environment which are then eaten by animals;
- when eaten by animals, microfibres can artificially fill up the guts of animals, causing blockages and death;
- the risk of bioaccumulation of carcinogens in our food chain is higher for microfibres than other microplastics due to their high surface area and ability to adsorb chemicals.
Which fabrics shed microfibres?
All fabrics shed microfibres, but the rate at which they break down varies drastically between natural fibres and others. Here’s the hit list:
- Avoid: polyester, acrylic, nylon, lycra/spandex
- Avoid: blends containing synthetics
- Proceed with caution: cellulose microfibres (rayon, lyocell, viscose, modal, bamboo) have also been found in food chains.
What can we do about it?
Microfibres are leached from our fabrics during production, washing and when disposed of so the solution has to be all encompassing:
- use less and reduce waste when cutting and in design;
- use 100% natural fibres where possible;
- wash less and look after your clothes to give them a longer life;
- add one of these microfibre catchers to your washing machine – Guppy Friend or a Cora Ball;
- investigate disposal options in your region; and
- advocate for better options such as take back and recycling programs.
There are lots of wonderfully creative ways to turn this problem into something positive. I have a friend who cuts us her old leggings into yarn like strips and uses them to make macramé plant holders. The Rouge Ginger stuffed a cushion with her worn out synthetics when she couldn’t find a suitable way to dispose of them. My current strategy is to down size any worn out adult clothing into kids clothing and to prioritise 100% natural fibres when buying new. This Plastic Free July let us join as a community to reduce the amount of synthetics we use, and to ensure that those is existence don’t end up in our waterways.