All fabrics release microfibers, whether they are organic, like hemp and wool, or synthetic, like polyester, fleece and acrylic. Synthetic fabric is essentially the petrochemical industry manufacturing microfibers that release in the form of microplastic pollution.
Plastic microfibers are a disturbingly abundant foreign substance in the Earth’s ecosystem— they make up 90% of the microplastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean, and are easily ingested by the tiny fish and plankton that support the entire marine ecosystem. We are now eating and drinking plastic in our water.
Both textile production and consumption are increasing drastically. The life cycle of textiles (including laundering accounts for 6.75 % of greenhouse gas emissions. – equivalent to every person on our planet flying 2,500 miles every year.
Since 1975 the global production of textile fibers has almost tripled: 107 million metric tons were produced in 2018. Right now the petrochemical industry is determined to manufacture 40% more plastic in our near future.
The fashion industry is leading us by the nose to buy cheap garments, made by outsourcing labor to countries where wages are pitifully low and yielding cheap finished products. This has triggered huge consumption—we’re buying five times more clothing than we did in 1980.
The United States has the highest demand for textiles, where we purchase at least one piece clothing every week. We as consumers are encouraged and media fed to buy synthetic clothing. We’re made to believe you can run faster, bike faster, stay warmer, dryer, look more trim, be more attractive—if you wear this stuff! Really?
When those clothes are laundered or tossed, it results in even more pollution ending up in waterways and oceans.
What to do?
Change our buying habits
- Purchase less new clothing!
- Start seeking out organic cotton, wool, any natural fabrics, and garments being made from hemp, bamboo and silk.
- Enjoy the hunt for second hand clothing at our local used clothing shops.
- Commit to reuse what you have as much and as long as possible.
- Wash less often and with care
- Gentle hand washing can reduce your microplastic pollution
- Use Coroballs in your washing machine or special micro-catching bags (these are made of plastic, but these multiuse devices might be a worthwhile trade-off).
- Wear your clothes longer before washing.
Support local fibersheds
- We can learn about local farmers and craftspeople producing farm to garment apparel. www.fibershed.org
- “Fibersheds” develop regional and regenerative fiber systems with independent working producers. Like sheep to shawl – all natural.
The Path to Change
We’ve brought our planet to this fossil fuel dependence. As individuals we can help to put the brakes on the plastic part. Besides, it’s fun to sleuth out your own path to change, share the ideas, and put on pressure where you shop. Let’s all work to make these changes!
Here are Some Cotton Facts
“ The best option may in fact be the one that’s right in front of us: cotton. Although it too has problems.
• About three-quarters of cotton is now genetically modified and farmed using industrial quantities of pesticides and fertilizers.
• Cotton accounts for only around 2.3% of the world’s arable land, but it uses over 16% of global insecticides, that the World Health Organization considers “highly hazardous pesticides.”
• The global cotton crop impoverishes the soil, pollute waterways, decimate biodiversity and often poison people, too.
• Globally cotton cultivation accounts for 220 million metric tons of CO 2 per year.
• Cotton fiber is notoriously thirsty.: The global water footprint of cotton is around 8.2 trillion cubic feet a year,the same as 238 bathtubs of water per person annually.”
About Organic Cotton
• “Cultivating organic cotton drastically reduces its environmental harm. Organic cotton has 40% less “global warming potential” and offers a 91% reduction in freshwater withdrawal from lakes, rivers and aquifers.
• The yields of organic cotton tend to be marginally smaller, but because the input costs are far lower, profit margins are actually greater — between 4% and 30%.
• This form of cultivation has repeatedly been shown to promote gender equality, community bonds, biodiversity, improved soils and human health. Rather than becoming individually indebted to corporations for seeds and chemicals, organic farmers form cooperatives and “buying clubs.”
“Farmers, retailers and consumers are all realizing that organic cotton is the moral fiber. Buying products made with organic cotton is part of the solution, but as consumers we can do more by choosing quality, throwing away less, repairing more and buying secondhand.”
The industry needs to do better, too.
“We can pressure retailers to become signatories to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Actionand demand to know what progress they are making toward net-zero emissions. The retailers themselves should read the writing on the wall and begin ridding their shelves and supply chains of polluting, carbon-intensive goods and practices.
“Because until there’s a radical shift in how we clothe ourselves, we’ll keep on stripping the planet bare.”
Chart courtesy of FiberShed. Fibershed is a California non-profit corporation exempt from federal tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.