How to Reduce Plastic Every Time I Wash My Clothes

Why you should care

Every load of clothes washed releases tiny microfibers of plastic into the water (they’re tiny
but mightily persistent).

by Cindy J Lin

If you haven’t heard, every time you wash a load of laundry, nearly a million pieces of microplastic fibers (each less than 5mm in length) get washed out and piped into your storm drain, which goes straight into the ocean. If your dirty water from washing clothes goes into the local waste stream to be treated, municipal wastewater treatment plants likely can’t filter out most of the microplastics because of its micro-size.  

In 2016, Patagnoia partnered with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and found that each wash of a synthetic fleece jacket released an average of 1.7g of microfibres or about 1900 microplastic fibers. Another study by Plymouth University in the United Kingdom found that when synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in washing machines, nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles are released per wash, which is five times more than polyester-cotton blended fabric materials.

Why Are Microfibers A Problem?

Any man-made fabric, such as polyester, rayon, or nylon, will shed microplastic fibers into the environment around us. The natural wear and tear of synthetic microfibers on your clothes gets detached from the original piece of clothing over time. Imagine microscopic particles floating in the air when you take your jacket off. These synthetic microfibers end up in our oceans, beaches, rivers, streams, lakes and land.

On average, between 50-100% of your clothes are made with some form of polyester because most of the clothes we buy are made from clothing manufacturers who use fabric blends that are breathable, stretchy and inexpensive. Unless you are focused on buying only natural blend fabrics (e.g., cotton, bamboo, wool, etc.), it’s hard to maintain an entire closet only of naturally sourced fabrics these days. And every time you wash a load, these microfibers escape our washing machine and get out there into water and air.

Our favorite question to ask at Hey Social Good is, “What can we do about it” and “How do we solve this”?

Below are some immediate things you can do to change this micro plastic trend.

Better Ways to Reduce Laundry Microplastics

  1. Best – Choose more natural fiber materials such as organic cotton, wool, bamboo, etc. The shedding of these fibers will biodegrade and naturally become part of the organic materials in water and land.
  2. Best – Wash your clothes less often. Your clothes, unless stained with dirt and/or stinky from sweat, don’t need to be washed often at all. 
  3. Awesome & Fun – Use microfiber catch containers for your washing machine.
  4. Check out Cora Balls and Guppy Friend which collect between 25%-75% of synthetic microfibers from your washed load
  5. Better – Keep three piles of worn clothing – still clean / dirty & stinky / denim hardly needs cleaning
  6. Solid – Buy vintage or pre-loved pieces of clothing. The more worn a piece of clothing, the less shedding takes place over time.

Some Good To Know Terms

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), is a strong, stiff synthetic fibre and resin, and a member of the polyester family of polymers. PET is spun into fibres for permanent-press fabrics (polyester), disposable beverage bottles, and photographic film, containers, moldings, etc. PET is a material found in every polyester or plastic #1 bottle, moldings, all around us. 

storm drain is an opening that goes to an underground pipe or open ditch for carrying surface runoff, water that flows from urban streets, which directly is dumped into a pipe flowing into the ocean or from a beach. These are different than sanitary sewer or wastewater system. Washing cars in your driveway results in water flowing down the street into a storm drain.

Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants receive wastewater from homes, businesses, and various industries, and is then processed to be treated or cleaned to certain levels for different uses including discharge into oceans, streams, rivers, lakes or for reuse.

Visit Patagonia’s website for first comprehensive report out and update of the sources of micro plastic fiber pollution from your clothes.

Keywords: laundry; clean laundry; washing clothes; microplastic fibers; ocean pollution; polluting laundry; polyester; rayon; nylon; synthetic microfibers; natural blend fibers; cotton; bamboo; wool; biodegrade; wash less; microfiber catch containers; Cora Balls; Guppy Friend; used clothing; buy used; Polyethylene terephthalate; PET; PETE;  photographic film; recycled plastic; Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant; Patagonia

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