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I blog about sustainable fashion, earth-friendly fibers like hemp and Tencel, capsule wardrobes, travel wear, and related subjects.
Getting to the bottom of microfiber pollution
The outdoor apparel maker Patagonia along with other industry partners have commissioned a study to better understand how microfiber pollution happens. These tiny plastic particles are shed every time synthetic textiles are laundered. While many people associate plastic pollution with plastic bottles and shopping bags, in reality, somewhere between 70 - 90 percent of the plastic fibers that are polluting our oceans come from textiles. I blogged about this problem last spring.
Last March, clothing maker Patagonia and other outdoor retailers underwrote research by The Ocean Wise Plastics Lab, who has been investigating microplastic particles in the water and animals of the Pacific and Arctic oceans since 2014. The new mission was to identify more precisely the sources of microparticle pollution and potential science-based fixes.
Ocean Wise’s Plastics Lab studied a variety of outdoor apparel fabrics provided by their sponsoring partners. The amount of microfibers shed by each fabric during laundering was meticulously accounted for using an elaborate filtration system. The lab also studied how these synthetic textiles weather and break down when exposed to the environment. Data gathered through both of these experiments have helped Ocean Wise develop a library of microscopic textile particles that identify specific pollution sources and demonstrate that:
Between 31,000 and 3,500,000 fibers are shed per wash load
Fleeces and brushed fabrics are the worst
Some fabrics shed a lot at first, but little later, suggesting a factory pretreatment may help
The ongoing effort will look more deeply at how microfibers impact sea life. You can explore the Ocean Wise website to find out more. They have created this chart for consumers that offers four simple ways to minimize your own microfiber pollution.
Infographic provided by Ocean Wise/Vancouver Aquarium.
Because the wicking properties and light weight of synthetic, technical clothing fibers are so valuable for extreme weather and severe uses, I understand why Patagonia and its partners are committed to using them. So I applaud their efforts in trying to understand and mitigate the problems these fibers create in our oceans.
Thankfully though, most Sympatico customers don’t face those ultra-demanding conditions in their everyday wear. That’s why I love the fact I can work with a natural fiber like hemp. Blended with sustainably grown and manufactured Tencel, it offers excellent wearability without threatening the world’s water supply.