You probably don’t think of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as a go-to source for fashion tips. But in its latest “Living Green 365” bulletin, the state agency urges Minnesotans to check out their wardrobes. In case you weren’t aware of it, your clothes are polluting the planet.
Take a look in your closet. What do you see? Clothes you wear? Clothes you never wear? You’re probably not thinking that’s a lot of plastic. Plastic —polyester, acrylic, nylon, and other synthetic fibers—is about 60% of the material that makes up our clothes.
And it turns out those synthetic fabrics we’ve been comfortably wearing and using these last few decades are adding tons of microplastic fibers to the environment.
Synthetic “microfibers” make up a wide variety of products we consume. But it appears environmental regulators have their eye on them–and us.
These tiny plastic particles—shed when we wear and launder our clothes, blankets, and household items—are showing up in drinking water (including the bottled kind), food, air, and even beer. They’re even being discovered in the Great Lakes and their tributaries.
Microfibers from synthetic fabrics are too small for filters to fully capture at wastewater treatment facilities. Many of these tiny fibers end up in treated wastewater that’s discharged into rivers and lakes, where fish and aquatic creatures consume or “ventilate” them through their gills.
But don’t clean out your closets, at least not yet. The MPCA provides tips on how you can reduce your wardrobe’s threat to the environment, news you can use. Here’s a sample.
Wash less. Most microfibers are shed from apparel and other items during laundering. You can reduce microfiber amounts by washing items less often. You’ll also save energy and conserve water in the process!
Hand wash or use a front-loading clothes washer. Top-loading washers, especially ones with an agitator, cause more friction between items, resulting in more and smaller microfibers down the drain. Front-loading washers and gentle hand washing create less friction, so fewer microfibers.
Use microfiber-reducing laundry products. A few products on the market are designed to filter microfibers during or immediately following the wash cycle. Some work better than others, and in most cases they leave behind a microfiber waste material that has to be disposed. Some of these products are discussed here: Products Take On Microfiber Pollution, a Laundry Room at a Time.