The mass volumes of plastic floating in the ocean is not breaking news for anyone. Blue Planet has shown us the damaging impacts of plastic on marine life; the images of fish chewing on plastic bags are devastating. Feeling hopeless about the situation is inevitable, although having the power to make more conscious fashion choices is a wonderful thing. As consumers, we can reduce the levels of microplastic entering the ocean with every wash of clothes we bundle into the machine. But, where can we even start with an issue so large yet so small as microplastics?
More than one-third of the microplastics entering the ocean comes from synthetic fibers. ‘Synthetic’ is an umbrella term for any fiber created through chemical synthesis, which includes polyester, nylon, spandex, rayon and so on. When we are looking at fleece, a fabric typically manufactured using polyester, the microplastics released into the ocean are frightening. A research group at the University of California even discovered that, on average, 1.7 grams of microplastics are released into the ocean with every wash of synthetic fleece jackets.
What can consumers do?
Fleece is undeniably one of the warmest and softest materials to snuggle into during the winter. Many of us will own fleece jackets and jumpers, which are never destined for the landfill, even despite the astronomical problem with microplastics in the ocean. An obvious option is to minimise how often you wash items containing fleece or other synthetic materials. However, this is not entirely sustainable, especially on muddy days or for embarrassing stains.
Researchers around the world have studied how consumers can reduce the amount of microplastics released through our washing machines. There are two interesting options to consider: filter bags and innovative detergents. The Girlfriend Collective sells its own microfiber filter, which attaches to the discharge hose. Every ten washes, customers are advised to throw away the microfibers collected in the machine.