by Kimberley Graham
Micro-plastic particles have been most commonly associated with ocean pollution. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), roughly 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. The plastic debris made up of mostly single-use plastic products, break down into micro-particles that have been found inside fish, birds, and a range of other marine life.
However, more recently, scientists have discovered that microplastics are also found in soils, terrestrial plants, and animal life, as well as in the Earth’s atmosphere. Because plastics are a persistent and lightweight material, they fragment into tiny pieces that can easily be carried by the wind. This means that no location is safe from plastic pollution.
Recent studies by Utah State University have estimated that more than 1000 tonnes of plastic micro-particles fall as rain each year in protected and remote areas of nature, such as in the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park. Meanwhile, London was found to have the highest levels of atmospheric micro-plastic pollution compared to other major cities in China, France, and Germany. Scientists estimate that eleven billion metric tons of plastic are projected to accumulate in the environment by 2025.
So what is the main culprit? When the plastic rain was analyzed, the fibrous micro-particles were found to be caused by the breakdown of synthetic textiles. Fabrics such as nylon and polyester made up 92% of the pollution measured. These findings underline the importance of reducing pollution from synthetic fashion materials. So where to start?
Here are a few tips that can help to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the atmosphere.
1. Choose Clothes Made from Natural, Organic and Recycled Natural Fabrics
Natural, organic, and recycled natural fabrics are the preferable choice in terms of overall sustainability impacts while eliminating the contribution of plastic pollution from fashion into the water cycle and atmosphere. Here are three fabrics to consider next time you are updating your wardrobe.
Organic-Linen: Linen is a natural fiber that has been grown for centuries. It is made from a very versatile crop: the flax plant which requires minimal water and grows in poor-quality soil. Besides, every part of the plant is used in the production of linen – so nothing is wasted. Linen is naturally moth resistant, strong, and, if left un-dyed, linen is fully biodegradable. In addition to being a good choice for people and the planet, linen is also a lightweight, soft fabric that is extremely comfortable and breathable when worn.
Recycled Cotton: Cotton is one of the most used fabrics in the fashion industry, however, it can be a very water-intensive crop, and depending on where it is grown, it can involve the use of a lot of chemicals. Organic cotton is also available. However, check if any organic claims are GOTS-certified to ensure high standards in production. Even better than organic cotton is recycled or up-cycled cotton, which is made from post-industrial and post-consumer cotton waste and is a more sustainable alternative compared to both conventional and organic cotton. Recycled cotton involves less water and energy consumption, keeps cotton clothes out of the landfill, and contributes to zero plastic pollution. On top of that, recycled cotton is still a lightweight and breathable natural fiber to wear.
Organic Hemp: Organic Hemp is one of those natural fibers that seem to tick all the boxes in terms of both sustainability and comfortability. Hemp requires very little water to grow, zero pesticides, and it fertilizes the soil as it grows. Hemp is an ancient fabric that has been used for a range of purposes for centuries and is one of those fabrics that becomes softer and more comfortable each time it is washed. It may not be surprising to find out that hemp is considered to be one of the most sustainable fabrics out there.
2. Wash and Tumble Dry Less
As a general rule of thumb, washing clothes less is one way to maintain the quality of the fabric and reduce water pollution. For synthetic fabrics, this is particularly important, as each wash is contributing to plastic micro-particles entering the water cycle. While some fabrics can be safely tumbled dried, it is preferable to hang or air dry where possible, as a natural drying process saves energy and involves less wear and tear. This means each fashion item will also last longer. When in doubt, follow the care instructions on the label and feel free free to chat with us about your garment cleaning requirements.
By being conscious about the care of your clothes and choosing natural, recycled, and organic natural fibers, you can reduce your contribution to plastic pollution and the bio-accumulation of plastic micro-particles in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.