We’d spend everyday in our yoga pants if we could. Our athleisure clothing is heralded for its comfort, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties. They tuck in the belly and keep the booty high and tight. What’s not to love? Until last year I hadn’t thought twice about where the polyester, spandex, and lycra fabrics that are woven together to make my favorite yoga pants and athleisure clothing come from. In fact, most of the clothing in my closet is made from synthetic fabrics like polyester, acrylic, lycra, or spandex. Then I learned that all of these fabrics are derived from plastic.
If I asked you to name the biggest contributors to ocean pollution you might think of plastic grocery bags, soda bottles, and plastic straws that are dumped into our oceans (save the turtles!). In reality, most of the plastic in our oceans is not in the form of whole plastics but rather shreds of plastic. Microfibers from the clothing we wear are shed into the water when we wash them. Microplastics from washing our clothing is one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution — even bigger than the harm caused from plastic straws!
Think about the fibers that collect in the lint tray in our dryers. Consider that every time we wash our clothing in our washing machine similar tiny microfibers (particles so small that they slip through water treatment plants) pass into our water stream. The fibers are microscopic and nearly invisible pollutants but several recent studies have shown that they have a significant impact on marine life.
You could decide to buy and wear clothing made from plant-based fibers like organic cotton, silk, and ethically sourced wool. It’s an admirable goal but I don’t think it’s realistic for the majority of us and the verdict is out on whether these fabrics are actually better for the environment anyway. But there are other steps we can take to limit the harm our synthetic clothing is doing to our planet
5 Steps To Take To Limit The Harm Caused By Laundering Synthetic Fabrics
Without a doubt, being naked is the number one way to become more sustainable with our clothing practices. If number one doesn’t work for you, you might consider the following options.
- Wash Your Clothing In Cold Water. // Water in combination with heat weakens fabrics. Consider how a cotton shirt feels after 20 washes versus after just one or two. It’s stretchier and softer and that’s because the fibers have broken down after many washes.
- Don’t Tumble Dry. // Similarly, the heat in your dryer contributes to breaking down the plastic fibers in your clothing so the next time you put them in the washing machine the microplastics are apt to get carried away with the wastewater. Instead, air dry your yoga pants, athleisure clothing, and other synthetic fabrics.
- Wash Less. // Air out clothing and hand wash stains and in general avoid unnecessary laundering.
- Use A Washing Machine Filter. // Unfortunately most of our washing machines do not incorporate filters to catch microfibers. But your machine can be retrofitted with a filter like this one.
- Use a Washing Bag for Synthetic Fabrics. // Use a washing bag like the Guppyfriend Washing Bag to reduce fiber shedding of synthetic fabrics in a regular load of clothing in the washing machine. The bag catches the microfibers and collects them so they don’t wash away in the wastewater.
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