What's it all about?
63% of our clothing is made from synthetic fibres (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017). Synthetic textiles made of e.g. polyester, polyamide, or polyacrylic have many advantages. They are lightweight, breathable and tear-resistant. Sports and outdoor clothing is therefore hardly imaginable without synthetic fibres, but the fashion industry also uses the cheap synthetic fibres in large quantities. However, if the plastic fibres get into the environment, they can become a significant threat to nature, animals and humans.
What is the problem?
Synthetic textiles are a major source of microplastics in the environment (IUCN 2017). This is because synthetic textiles lose microplastic fibres when washed and worn. Scientists from the University of California in Santa Barbara have calculated that the daily amount of plastic fibres released into wastewater by washing synthetic clothing in a city of 100,000 inhabitants is equivalent to about 15,000 plastic bags thrown into the sea (Hartline et al. 2016). But not only when washing, but also when wearing clothes, microfibres break off and disperse into the air we breathe. Inhaled microfibres can remain in the lungs for up to 180 days and can lead to inflammation. Together with broken microfibres from home textiles such as carpets and curtains, they collect in house dust and enter the environment when dirty cleaning water is thrown away. Once in the water, microplastics absorb pollutants and bacteria, transporting them into the food chain and ultimately onto our plates (GESAMP 2015 and Gasperi 2018).
What can I do?
Do you really need another jumper? If so, check the care label before buying and try to avoid synthetic textiles where possible. If you have clothes made of synthetic fibres, follow the rules of the washing guide “Wash better” and use the Guppyfriend washing bag for less microplastic pollution from washing. Filter your cleaning water to capture microfibres from house dust and protect the environment and your health.