Synthetic garments generate one-third of the amount of microplastic found in the ocean today. One of the greatest challenges we are now facing is the impact plastic and microplastic (particles smaller than five millimeters) is having on climate change, such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and global warming. Studies show how the microplastic that winds up on our plates and consequently in our stomachs, thus affecting other species, largely derives from the clothes we wear and the way we wash them.
The study, carried out by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, showed that 35% of the microplastic that is dispersed in the ocean comes from synthetic textiles. Also, each time that a garment gets washed, over 700,000 microscopic fibers are released in the ocean and engulfed by marine life, thereby, claiming its place in the food chain. This information should be enough to force each of us to decrease our carbon footprint by choosing sustainable clothing and a more respectful attitude towards our planet.
The study revealed that fashion contributed immensely to water contamination and in 2015, having produced 1,200 million tons of CO2, it had generated more emissions than both international flights and ocean travel combined. It is of utmost importance to address issues like waste, the use of dyes and the search for ways to elongate the lifespan of garments in addition to purchasing clothes that certify the use of sustainable materials and practices.
The report recommends washing our clothes at lower temperatures, placing mesh bags to trap fibers, installing filters in washing machines and reducing the use of the clothes dryer as much as possible. According to Greenpeace, increasing the lifespan of your clothes reduces your CO2 emissions by 24%, aside from lowering costs.
Some Ways of Reducing Microplastic
How to end this problem?
Moreover, the use of products made from natural fibers is a responsible option because they are found directly in nature, which means that the industrial process and energy needed to make fabric and material are more sustainable, eco-friendly, and do not generate as much waste as processing material from synthetic fibers.
Filters in Washing Machines
Since a great amount of the microplastic that ends up in the ocean derives from washing machines, a practical solution may be to install filters that trap these elements before they get out.
Plastic Eating Bacteria
The scientific community has great faith in certain bacteria found to have the capability of breaking down plastic (see previous post) but this solution is still being examined. The controlled use of these organisms could one day turn out to be a great ally in biodegrading and recycling microplastic fibers in the future.
Unfortunately, recycling and filtering are not enough to keep microplastics from making it to the ocean. Tons of these materials are used worldwide and we need to find an alternative. Biosynthetic fibers are a viable option; they are biodegradable and recyclable and can also be mixed with natural fibers to provide more durability. Inspired by a protein found in squid, a researcher has developed a fiber that possesses excellent properties and is completely biodegradable.
The Development of Biosynthetic Fibers
So, what are we really talking about?
According to Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization that focuses on sustainable textile production, biosynthetic fibers are formed by polymers made from wholly or partially renewable sources.
Biopolymers, these days, are commercially available and derive from renewable sugars, starches, and lipids by using maize, sugar cane, and vegetable oils as raw materials. Technology is also being developed to produce biosynthetic fibers using a wider range of raw materials that include agriculture and forestry waste, to name a few.
The plastic pollution problem has reached disproportionate dimensions and calls for appropriate solutions in the form of legislation and the search for alternatives. Nevertheless, consumers can also pitch in on a smaller scale by purchasing durable clothing and reducing the use of the washing machine to help diminish microplastic pollution.
Lobao Studio’s work in fashion strives for respectful labor relationships and promotes the return of traditional craftsmanship while continuing to research new trends, textiles and designers. To know more, click here.
(cover photo ©The StoryOfStuff)