How to prevent your clothes creating plastic pollution
The Plastic Problem
The Massive Microplastics Problem
Clothes made of 100% polyester, acrylic, nylon or polyamide = 100% plastic.
Washing releases thousands of tiny plastic fibres, also called microplastics. Some are caught by washing machine filters or in water-treatment processes, but smallest end up in the ocean.
Based on data from a study at University of California, we can estimate that UK pumps out almost 250,000kg of microplastics from laundry each year, which = 49 million plastic bags. Microplastics are invisible to the naked eye but are now being detected on beaches, in waters, on the seabed and in fish and marine mammals. They are already ending up in your food and the air you breathe.
How they harm
When small enough, microplastics can penetrate cell membranes, causing inflammation and damage. They can carry with them additive chemicals and contaminants.
What you can do
Microplastic shredding is caused mainly by abrasion, when synthetic fibres rub against hard fibres like denim or the washing machine drum and shred into small bits. They are also created by using too much water.
How to minimise this:
1. Keep synthetics separate from tougher items, like jeans
2. The more water you use, the more microplastics get released. So go for an eco wash or a wash which uses less water and energy.
3. A Guppyfriend Washing Bag. It’s a £25 plastic net bag (made of a plastic that doesn’t shred and is not single use). You can fit in up to 4kg of synthetics in it. It reduces shred by reducing stress on clothes. The microplastics form a little ball of fluff which collects in the seams and should then be disposed of in the general waste. You could use a tied up pillowcase but you won’t fit as much in and it’s not so easy to collect the fluff.
Washing machine manufacturers
There needs to be better practice by clothing and appliance manufacturers, as well as clear government regulation.
Beko, Bosch and Miele are promoting machines that use gentle rotation, minimal friction and better filtering systems.
Defra -plans to introduce new laws to ‘work with the water industry to find new methods to detect, measure and remove microplastics from wastewater.