Day 25: Plastic Free July 2014

Six days ago @ZeroWasteChef tweeted a link to this article. So there’s plastic in clothes, making its way into the ocean, and then the food chain? Surely not, I thought…and filed it into that part of my brain where I store ideas, that I’ll maybe think about later.

Yesterday, I revisited the theory. I typed plastic in clothes into my search engine, and the first article that was listed is this one. It was on the BBC website, but it referred to the same ecologist as in the original article, Mark Browne, who was working at the University of California.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if research such as this, is based outwith where you live (in my case the UK), then I experience it as comforting somehow – like it’s too far away to touch me. I kept reading the article however, and it seemed that Mark Browne had got in touch with a colleague in the UK – Professor Richard Thompson, based at the University of Plymouth – who had only gone and spoiled my state of denial, by checking out what fibres were propelled into the environment from the water spewed out by washing machines. It turned out that ‘some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash’ according to Mark Browne.

Oh. I suppose that’s my washing machine, and my fibres?

I poked about a bit more on the internet – you’ll find only the highest standard of research here folks! – and read a few articles about plastic bottles that are recycled into clothes. Right enough, that did sound familiar. So it makes sense that clothes may contain plastic (not always plastic bottles!).  I searched a bit more on the net and stared thinking more about materials such as nylon and polyester.  Can you actually categorise them as a relative of plastic? I’m not sure, but I’d like to learn more. I hadn’t really thought about what happens when you wash man-made fibres. I suppose I just assumed that clothes didn’t shed bits of themselves residue.

Then I thought harder and remembered the unfortunate plumber that came out to fix our washing machine, and how he hauled out lots of horrible gunk during the process…and I remembered the cardigan that had covered my work chair with fluff…and I thought about my black socks and how they left me with tiny balls of stuff between my toes…and I began to realise that it was very possible that the fabrics from my clothes are making their way out of my washing machine and off to wherever they go…

The original article that I read via @ZeroWasteChef, talks about a proposal to develop a filter for washing machines, which would presumably keep harmful fibres from leaving the machine. The article was dated less than a year ago though so I am not hopeful that this has happened yet.

I already thought I was doing quite well on the issue of clothes and the environment. In this post I challenged myself to buy no new clothes for a year. I’m doing really well, though I have to confess to buying a new bra. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that when an underwire malfunctions, it can be pretty painful! I also challenged myself for the month of January, in this post, to reduce the number of clothes I wash, to one load per day (for a family of four). After months of trying and getting close, I finally achieved it in June! As you can imagine, I’m pretty pissed off frustrated to learn that each item of clothing I wash is potentially releasing 1,900 fibres per wash!

Is this something that you know about? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Before I sign off please check out this great post by The Snail Of Happiness, who emailed Clipper about the plastic content of her tea bags. Do welcome her as the newest (reluctant!) member of the tea leaf brigade…

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10 thoughts on “Day 25: Plastic Free July 2014

  1. What an enlightening thought! While we have stopped buying textiles made from any synthetic fibers (new or secondhand) for other reasons, I had not stopped to think of the fibers released into the water system while washing. What about if you compost your dryer lint? The chemicals are being leached back into your compost that you feed your plants with too. The issue is like an onion – new layers unfolding one after another…

  2. Thank you for the mention! I felt pretty overwhelmed when I first heard about this. (Is there no end to the horrors of plastic?!) But I too have been washing clothes less frequently and on the rare occasion that I do buy them, I look for natural fibers, which are difficult to find 😦 But, upward on onward!

    • Yes, it’s all pretty overwhelming. Makes me feel quite powerless but I guess we can only do what we can do. I hadn’t even thought about clothes til I read that article…

  3. Thanks for this. It’s amazing isn’t it how small things just add up – especially when they get into the Food Chain? I’ve been re-reading “Silent Spring” I don’t think even Carson saw the man-made fibers in the ocean problem. Fleeces were hailed as the new best thing in plastic bottle recycling (when did everyone start wearing them?) they don’t seem seem so environmentally sound now. Trying to work out what kind of quest I could add to http://www.worldchanging.me about this one – something about buying natural fibres … I’ll have a think.

  4. Fibres shedding is unfortunately a fact of textile – always was – but the mix of synthetic fibres and our abundant washing of clothes has overwhelmed nature’s natural system to deal with such waste. Speaking for the UK only, I reckon more people would be up in arms about the amount of plastic that unknowingly ends up in the water system if they knew that in many parts of the country the water we drink from the tap is just recycled & cleansed waste water!

    Congratulations on the major cuts in your laundry. Doing that with children is a real achievement. And don’t beat yourself up about the bra… They, like well-supporting shoes, are a necessary evil (and I bet you’ll wear the new to death)!

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