How our clothes are polluting the ocean with microfibers

At less than a millimeters long, microfibers are a form of microplastics that our synthetic clothing (such as polyester and acrylic) releases every time we do laundry, just like the microbeads you find in cosmetics. The microfibres are so small they slip through our washing machine drainage system. Since wastewater treatment plants are not able to remove it all from the sewage, microfibers wind up in rivers, lakes and the ocean, 

In the marine ecosystem these synthetic fibres look like tasty treats to zooplankton such as krill and tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, in other words, the base of the food chain. They also act like sponges, sucking up pollutants such as pesticides and industrial chemicals. Since the human being is at the top of this food chain, we end up eating fish full of microfibers mixed with toxic substances. 

Well, what can we do to change that? First of all, buying fewer clothes. Repairing the old ones or making do with last year’s colour scheme. If you do need to buy clothes, give preference to second hand clothes. In the case of buying brand new clothes, before your purchase, have a look at the label to see what it is made of. Opting for clothing made from natural materials like wool, cotton and silk over synthetic whenever possible. They will often be more expensive, but the flipside is that well-made clothes from natural materials should last longer. Also avoid buying fluffy clothing and materials like fleeces as these can be some of the worst offenders in the washing machine.

We can also change our way of doing laundry. Only wash synthetic clotting when you have to, and when you do, follow this measures to reduce the amount of microfibers they shed: 

  • Wash at lower temperatures (ideally a cold wash);
  • Make sure you have a full load;
  • Use a lower spin speed and a shorter cycle;
  • Use fabric softener and liquid laundry detergent.

You can also try to use a GuppyFriend Washing Bag. These mesh bags capture the microfibres that break during washing inside for you to dispose more responsibly in the bin. For now they are only available in Europe, The United States, Canada, Australia/New zealand, for 29.75 € each with free shipping within Europe. If you are not pleased by the Guppy Bag you should try The Cora Ball, a laundry ball that works just like the bag, preventing microfiber from breaking off the clothes and collecting it so it can be disposed of in the right way (landfills). Cora Balls can be found online and shops in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Switzerland, The United Kingdom and the United States for $37.99 each.

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