When we think of plastic we mostly think of plastic bags, bottles, plastic packaging and so on. However, our clothes also have microplastics.
Plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers now constitute about 60 percent of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide. Because plastic fibers are cheap and versatile, providing for stretch and breathability in athleisure, and warmth and sturdiness in winter wear, there is a high demand for them. According to industry journal Textile World, demand for polyester has grown faster than demand for wool, cotton and other fibers for at least 20 years and, by 2030 synthetics are expected to account for 75 percent of global apparel fiber production, or 107 million tons.
A study released in 2016 found out that washing clothes is one of the biggest sources of microplastics in the environment. During laundry, such clothes leave traces of microplastics in the form of small threads into the water pipeline and eventually into our seas and oceans. This microplastic pollution is consumed by marine life and in turn us. Basically, we are eating, wearing, and drinking plastic.
These clothes also tend to be cheaper and hence easily consumable. Today, fast fashion has created a never-ending cycle, where young people must tend to social media pressure and the latest fashion trends to keep up to date.
What can we do?
Small individual efforts can pave a long way in reducing plastic waste from our water bodies.
- We can start by washing synthetic clothes less frequently, for a shorter duration, and ensuring that our washing machine is full. Washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes and fewer fibers are released. You will also be saving lots of water!
- Consider switching to a liquid laundry soap. Laundry powder “scrubs” and loosens more microfibers.
- Use a colder wash setting. Higher temperature can damage clothes and release more fibers. Dry spin clothes at low revolutions. Higher revolutions increase the friction between the clothes. Also, consider using an old sock or a wash bag for the water outlet. The bag can capture many fibers released in the washing process.
- Consumers can also choose to buy only natural fibres such as cotton, hemp, bamboo etc. Eco and organic fabric biodegrade naturally over time. In turn, you will also support local artisans and India’s rich handloom industry. Clothes made of natural fibres are more expensive but last longer. Eventually, one must move to buying and consuming less if you really want to be sustainable.