While performing research for a piece on the best recycled fleece jacket for fall, one of our editors came upon a disturbing reality. She stumbled upon evidence that synthetic fleece -even recycled synthetic fleece- has a harmful effect on the world’s oceans.
Recent studies show that a single fleece jacket can release hundreds of thousands of microfibers during a single wash. And thus, our obsession with fleece took on a new – less admirable- light.
A Single Fleece Jacket Can Release Thousands of Microfibres Into Our Waterways
Why exactly is the release of thousands of microfibres so disturbing? Because water from your washing machine ends up in wastewater treatment plant. Here, most microfibers are removed, yet a significant amount is released into the local environment (natural watersheds). Once they find their way into our waterways, microfibres can be ingested by small aquatic species. Thus, directly and indirectly, they end up in the fish and bivalves we eat. The effects of which are still unknown.
Furthermore, synthetic microfibers have the potential to carry harmful toxins such as DDT and PCBs into our watersheds; polluting our water supply and aquatic habitats. While these microfibers also end up in our terrestrial environments, their effects on our aquatic environment is the best understood.
The Conversation Around Microplastic
So what does it all mean, and why have I never heard of it before?
The conversation around microplastic pollution began in part when a team of scientists, began using the word microplastics. They used this word to describe the microscopic fragments of manmade products in research publications. Their intensive research found that microplastics are now everywhere in the oceans, from tourist lined coastlines to the most remote parts of the worlds oceans.
Disturbingly, their work has also shown these plastics to be present in around one third of some 500 fish in the English Channel.
While scientists have started the conversation, mainstream media is only just starting to catch on. And large retailers of the infamous synthetic fleece jacket are stating to take notice. A study funded by the pioneers of the iconic fleece, Patagonia, and performed by the students at the University of California Santa Barbara, showed that a single Patagonia fleece jacket released 250,000 synthetic fibers in a single laundering.
This number is astounding. And it left us wondering, what can we do to reduce our contribution to microplastic pollution?
How To Reduce Your Impact on Microplastic Pollution
Before we get into it, it’s important to note that current studies on this topic are only just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harmful effects of synthetic microfibers in the marine environment. That said, conclusive data is not yet available, and every piece of clothing comes with it’s own environmental costs, even ones made with natural materials.
Yet for the eco-conscious consumer, there are things you can start doing now in order to reduce your plastic footprint – and it starts with subbing out the purchase of a fleece jacket made with synthetic fibers for a fall jacket made with natural fibers such as wool, cashmere, mohair, alpaca wool, silk, linen, hemp, or organic cotton.
You can also purchase laundry bags, aftermarket filters, and laundry balls to help capture microfibres released in the wash. Also, just washing your items less can help to reduce the release of microfibres.