Plastic pollution is a massive environmental problem, especially in our oceans. It turns out that 35% of primary plastic pollution is from the plastic fibers we wear and wash! I decided to find ways to personally begin reducing plastic pollution from my home. So clearly, I need to start with my laundry.
Much as I hate to accept it, a large portion of the plastic pollution problem stems from materials in apparel. People are often surprised to learn that their polyester, acrylics, spandex, stretch and nylon (as well as other synthetic) fabrics are made from plastic materials; all of which shed when worn and washed.
Though more study is worthy, the problem is well documented. One study estimated, based on their washing machine experiments, that an individual’s plastic shedding could add up to 793 pounds a year. Surprisingly, those tiny fibers coming out in the wash can really add up.
The problem is that once those fibers are free, in the air, or in the water, it is very hard to get them back or to effectively “clean them up.” Environmental advocates remind me that we can’t efficiently vacuum the ocean for plastic pollution and that we must solve the problem further upstream.
So, while I am working to eliminate single-use plastic in my life entirely that’s not the only way I’m going to have to tackle and reduce my plastic pollution contribution. Over the past few years I’ve been determined to buy apparel from natural fibers that aren’t made from plastics for myself and my family. Turns out, I can still work to minimize plastic pollution at my own house, specifically when doing laundry.
There are devices that you can use in the washer and dryer that are supposed to capture plastic particles. There is a study that evaluated the efficacy of such devices. None of them eliminate the problem but some, more than others, actually do curb the problem. One study on microplastic water collection devices found the efficacy of an in-drum device like the Guppy Friend to reduce pollution by 54% but the best was an external filter such as the XFiltra that reduced microfiber pollution by 73%.
According to Dianna Cohen, CEO & Co-Founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition,
“Devices like the Cora Ball and the Guppy Bag are a good intermediary step to reducing plastic microfiber escape, but ultimately, we need a built-in solution, such as microfiber filters on all washers and dryers. At the same time, we must shift the system and stop consuming fast fashion. We need fashion companies to return to creating long-lasting clothes made of natural materials.”
It’s clear that while these devices and tips are useful for a reduction in plastic shedding, and we should all use them, they aren’t the ultimate answer. We need to push appliance companies and legislators to put energy, effort and money into helping with the plastic pollution problem. Whatever you do, wherever you are at, you can begin taking more responsibility for removing plastic pollution from our environment.
Here’s a list of laundry solutions & pro tips to reduce your plastic pollution at home:
- Use a device to help capture your plastic pollution before it gets into the water supply such as:
- When washing synthetic clothing, don’t tumble just leave it to drip-dry.
- Instead of washing, spray your clothes with a refreshing Essential Oil and water mist such as this one from Soapwalla, and let clothes air dry to reduce washing frequency.
- Get a bottle of cheap vodka and spray that on your clothes to get rid of bacteria from sweat (this works great on smelly sports equipment!)
- Select a front-loading machine over a top-loading machine as they shed fewer fibers.
- When buying new items, prioritize natural fibers, longer lasting clothing and materials.