What are Microplastics in Fashion?

What are Microplastics in Fashion?

Psst...did you know that your synthetic clothes hide a dirty little secret? Every time you run your washing machine, they shed hundreds of thousands of minuscule microfibers. These synthetic tiny fibers are so minuscule, they easily pass through your laundry bag and find their way into water systems, eventually permeating every corner of our oceans, rivers, and soil. The result? Microfiber pollution.

Here at People of Leisure, we strive to create conscious clothing while minimizing our social and environmental impact as much as possible. Let's take a look at what microfibers are in more detail, shedding some light on some small yet powerful ways you can make a difference when it comes to protecting our planet from plastic pollution.

What are Microfibers?

Microfibers are tiny synthetic fibers that are commonly found in clothing and textiles made from synthetic material. These fibers are usually crafted from materials like polyester, nylon, or other synthetic polymers. When garments made from these materials undergo washing or friction, they release these tiny fibers. But while these tiny particles may be tiny in size, they have a big impact on our planet.

What is Microfiber Pollution?

Microfiber pollution is the environmental problem arising from the release of microfibers into the ecosystem when washing synthetic textiles. These plastic microfibers, originating from our washing machines, infiltrate wastewater treatment plants inadequately equipped to capture them. Consequently, these tiny particles find their way into oceans and water bodies, perpetuating a pervasive issue: microfiber pollution.

The Culprits: Synthetic Clothes and Washing Machines

Synthetic textiles, such as those used in trendy apparel, contribute significantly to microfiber shedding. The friction generated during washing synthetic clothes, even in high-quality washing machines, exacerbates the release of these plastic microfibers. Due to their teeny-tiny size, microfibers don't get caught in filtration but instead effortlessly enter water systems, eventually finding their way to seas and oceans. Considered a growing environmental concern, these tiny plastic particles can have detrimental effects on adverse effects on aquatic life, ecosystems, and potentially human health as well.

Is Microfiber Pollution Harmful to Marine Life?

Unfortunately, yes. Microfibers pose threats to marine organisms at different levels of the marine ecosystem. This is because microfibers can be ingested by marine organisms, leading to bioaccumulation as they move up the food chain. Additionally, the presence of microfibers in water bodies can contribute to environmental contamination, impacting both marine life and ecosystems. Microfiber pollution not only affects marine animals but also contaminates the ocean floor.

Sources of Microfiber Pollution

Domestic and Commercial Washing Machines

The primary contributor to microfiber pollution is the washing of synthetic materials using laundry or washing machines. The friction and abrasion, coupled with the use of liquid detergent, lead to the release of microfibers. The highest volumes of synthetic fibers are released by domestic households, laundromats, and industries through these washing processes.

Production Process of Textile and Apparel Industry

Microfibers are also abundantly released in the textile and apparel production process, from extracting raw materials to spinning, weaving, and sewing. Mechanical actions and friction during these stages contribute to the emission of these minuscule synthetic fibers, raising environmental concerns.

Disposal of Wet Wipes and Face Masks

While these are items we likely use in our daily lives without a second thought, they can end up creating microfiber pollution if not disposed of properly. Conscientious disposal methods, including recycling and utilizing designated waste bins, can help avoid microfiber pollution. 

How does Fast Fashion Contribute to Microplastics?

Fast fashion plays a major role in the proliferation of microplastics through various channels. This is partly because the production of fast fashion items heavily relies on synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic—essentially plastics. But while the ease and cost-effectiveness of producing synthetic fabrics make them ideal for fast fashion, they're certainly not great for our environment.

The swift turnover of trends leads to substantial clothing disposal, releasing additional microplastics as garments degrade. Furthermore, fast fashion contributes significantly to the initial washes of clothing, as the items are often worn briefly and deteriorate rapidly, intensifying the release of plastic fibers during constant production.

How to Help Stop Microfiber Pollution

As a consumer, there are various ways you can actively contribute to curbing microfiber pollution in the fashion industry and lessening its environmental impact. Here are some suggestions:

Opt for natural fibers

When shopping for clothes, choose garments made from materials like organic cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Unlike synthetic clothing which is made with synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, they break down more easily thanks to their natural fibers. This makes them less likely to release microfibers when put in the washing machine.

Invest in quality clothing

Higher-quality apparel typically sheds fewer microfibers than cheaper alternatives. Although initial costs may be higher, investing in durable pieces with a minimalist capsule wardrobe can save money over time and decrease microfiber pollution.

Reduce washing frequency

Washing clothes less frequently can lessen microfiber shedding. Consider wearing items multiple times before washing, particularly if they're not visibly soiled. 

Install a microfiber filter

Place a microfiber filter in your washing machine to trap microfibers before they enter the water system, significantly diminishing microfiber pollution from laundry.

Choose cold water washes

Compared to hot water, cold water washing reduces microfiber release. Additionally, using a shorter and gentler wash cycle can further minimize microfiber shedding.

Support eco-friendly fashion brands

Though you have to be mindful of greenwashing, we encourage you to seek out brands committed to sustainability and environmentally responsible practices in their manufacturing processes. These brands may employ innovative methods to reduce microfiber pollution, such as using recycled materials or designing garments with minimal fiber shedding.

Microfibers vs Cotton: Which is Better for the Environment?

The significant advantage of natural fabrics like wool and cotton lies in their complete biodegradability. Unlike plastic microfibers, these break down into harmless molecules that seamlessly reintegrate into the natural ecosystem. On the other hand, plastic microfibers endure for decades, if not hundreds of years. Additionally, natural fibers like cotton have a smaller environmental footprint compared to synthetic fibers since their production involves fewer chemicals.

That said, being natural doesn't necessarily equate to environmental friendliness. Synthetic microfibers are known for their durability, outlasting cotton, and requiring less frequent replacement. Additionally, microfiber production is often more water-efficient than cotton, a significant advantage given cotton's high water demand for irrigation. The lightweight nature of microfiber is another pro, facilitating easier transportation and potentially reducing carbon emissions during shipping.

While the allure of these advantages may attract the fast fashion sector in the apparel and textile industry, natural fabrics like cotton emerge as the more conscientious option for environmental preservation, specifically because of their biodegradability and renewability.

Taking Action Against Microfiber Pollution

From the laundry room to the wider apparel industry, collective efforts to reduce microfiber shedding can alleviate the strain on our oceans, protect marine life, and contribute to a more responsible fashion industry. As a consumer, you can help fight microfiber pollution by urging policymakers to take action and challenging brands regarding their efforts to minimize microfiber release. Additionally, you can choose to support brands that engage in responsible and ethical practices to help drive much-needed positive change within the fashion industry.

Our Fight Against Plastic Pollution

As a sustainable fashion brand, we aim to reduce microfiber pollution in order to be more sustainable and ethically responsible. Our commitment revolves around prioritizing the utilization of natural and biodegradable fibers, specifically opting for materials like organic cotton and hemp. These choices result in significantly fewer microfibers shed during washing compared to their synthetic counterparts.

Additionally, we engage in sustainable and ethical manufacturing practices, where we actively reduce water and chemical usage to minimize our overall environmental footprint. For example, our use of low-impact dyes in clothing production enables water reuse while eliminating the introduction of harmful inks, dyes, or chemicals to our products.

Finally, by embracing closed-loop systems through our use of deadstock fabrics, we not only reduce waste but also lessen demands on land, water, energy, and soil resources, aligning with our mission for responsible and eco-conscious fashion.

Through these conscientious efforts, we can create a better future for our planet and all those who call it home.