A Hidden Source of Plastic Pollution: Our Clothes

According to NBC News, the plastic bottles, straws or grocery bags that wash on beaches are some of the most visible signs of plastic pollution. But scientists say there is another source that is even more difficult to clean up — and it’s hiding in our clothes.

Most clothing contains synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon that are essentially constructed from thin plastic fibers. These fabrics have become widespread because they are durable and cheap to make.

Most microfiber pollution occurs when people wash their clothes. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry.

These tiny bits of plastic pose a scaring environmental challenge. When microfibers go off clothing, they end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by seafood that people eat. Unlike many plastic items, that can easily be seen and picked up, the spread of these tiny fibers is much more difficult to control.

In 2014 Patagonia worked with researchers at the University of California to explore the extent of microfiber pollution. They found that when the garments were washed, an average of 1.17 grams of microfibers were released.

As a solution, Patagonia recommends products that could be used in washing machines to collect some of the synthetic fibers from each load of laundry. Guppyfriend is a reusable washing bag developed by a nonprofit organization called Stop! Micro Waste. Consumers can place their synthetics inside the Guppyfriend and then toss the bag where it collects some of the released microfibers. Guppyfriend costs nearly $30.

Furthermore, Patagonia is working on developing such fabrics that lose fewer microfibers. But so far, there’s no perfect solution.



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