Clothing Microfibers are Poising Marine Life, and We’re Next

Humans need to keep clothing microfibers in check if they want to live.

Microfibers—the tiny fibers in your clothing that get released every time you wash your clothes—are destroying marine life. And if people don’t take action now, those clothing microfibers could soon destroy other life.

The investigation into this big and small problem began when Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York Fredonia, cut open a Great Lakes fish and found synthetic fibers everywhere.

When Mason examined the fibers under a microscope, she saw that they had almost weaved into the fish’s gastrointestinal tract.

“Though she had been studying aquatic pollution around the Great Lakes for several years… she had never seen anything like it,” The Guardian reports.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. A recent study from the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, “on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash,” The Guardian reports.

“The study was funded by outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia, a certified B Corp that also offers grants for environmental work.”

And you can forget feeling good about thrifting clothing because the study “also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets.”

All these microfibers go through local wastewater treatment plants and up to 40 percent of them then travel into lakes, oceans, and rivers.

As mentioned earlier, these tiny, synthetic microfibers are very dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain.

“The fibers’ size also allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate, concentrating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, higher up the food chain,” The Guardian adds.

So, what can we do, you know, other than stop washing clothing, or going nude? There are a few things:

1. Companies have to change how they create clothing

Companies, such as Patagonia and Columbia Sportswear, as well as other companies, are working through the Outdoor Industry Association to examine the microfiber issue in-depth. These companies do have interests to keep their clothing as clean as possible because they are publicly known as environmentally friendly brands. Also: Fast fashion companies need to cut it out. Cheap clothing sheds more fibers, which is pretty evident after you wash it for the first time and it suddenly looks 15 years old.

2.  Technology needs to keep up

  • Companies could embrace using anti-shed treatments that can be placed on clothing and fabrics.
  • Clothing businesses could use better quality materials when constructing clothing—not exactly a high-tech solution, but still noteworthy.
  • Things called nanoballs can go into washing machines and attract and capture plastic fibers.
  • Have you ever heard of waterless washing machines? We hadn’t either. Apparently, one of these machines is in the works by Colorado-based Tersus Solutions. The Guardian reports that “Tersus, with funding from Patagonia, has developed a completely waterless washing machine in which textiles are washed in pressurized carbon dioxide.”
  • And if you can’t afford a new washer, you could just add a filter to your home washing machine. “More than 4,500 fibers can be released per gram of clothing per wash, according to preliminary data from the Plastic Soup Foundation,” The Guardian adds.

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Image of ocean via Shutterstock

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.