How Fabrics are Harming our Sea Life

Recently, microbeads – the micro plastics found in many of our facial cleansers and hygiene products, were banned from the U.S, marking a great stride toward reducing the toxic pollutants in our sea life. However, microbeads are just one variety of micro plastics –  and if you haven’t heard of microfibers yet, then keep reading! Microfibers are found in the fibers of our clothing, and are detrimentally poisoning our waterways and sea life, along having with the potential to move up the food chain.

When we wash our clothing, hundreds of thousands of microfibers are released into the washing machine water – which then gets disposed into our local waste waterways. Microfibers have been found in abundance where water waste is released, with a large percentage then moving into the rivers, lakes and oceans. The major problem with microfibers, according to an article in The Guardian, is that they are easily consumable and can bio-accumulate in fish, which can not only be harmful to them, but we can end up ingesting the microfibers, too (we also can ingest microfibers from drinking bottled and tap water). A recent study from the University of Exeter studied crab behavior after they were given contaminated food with microfibers – researchers found that crabs exhibited a “altered animal behavior” and also had a reduced appetite.

Patagonia also recently released a study, which showed that a single fleece jacket can shed as much as 250,000 synthetic fibers in a single cycle. Polyester, which is used to make fleece, is thought to be one of the worst fabrics that contributes to ocean pollution because of the high amount of plastic fibers that come out in the wash. Patagonia also estimates that consumers wash around 100,000 Patagonia jackets per year, and the amounts of microfibers released into waterways from that equates to the plastic of 11,900 grocery bags.

So, what are some ways to help fix this? Ecologist Mark Browne indicates that producing, along with purchasing, better quality clothing, and also coating clothing with an anti-shed treatment, is one way to help reduce the amounts of microfibers released into the washing machine. Others are pointing at fashion brands, especially cheaply produced clothing brands, who have yet to speak out about the microfiber crisis, asking them how they plan to help play a part in fixing the issue.

Little things like washing synthetic clothing less often for a shorter period of time, using colder wash settings, and washing your clothing in a “Guppyfriend” bag, which has proven to dramatically reduce the amount of micro plastics released from clothing, are all great ways to become more conscious and help our sea life!

Juliette Baumann