Reducing Microplastics from our Clothing

Laundry Basket

We are in the midst of July, which is a month to think about our plastic consumption, due to the efforts of the Plastic Free Foundation and their initiative, Plastic Free July ®.

It may sound intimidating to shoot for going plastic-free, but the goal is to make improvements. So in this blog post I am writing about some insights that might help and guide you to improve your own impact from clothing.

Impact and how to choose

It has recently come to light that washing synthetic clothing is a significant source of microplastic pollution in the oceans. What is the problem with that? Here is one quote from a National Geographic Magazine article to give you an idea:

“Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.” 1

What can we do about it?

Remember that the mantra Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is in order of relative impact. So, the first thing to do is buy less. This means using what you have and mend clothes whenever possible. Buy quality clothing that fits you properly so you will actually wear it and for many uses.

Clothing that has already been washed a bunch of times sheds less, making this also another reason to wear your garments for a long time, or buy used, over frequent consumption. Also, simply washing your clothes less often helps cut down on those microplastics escaping.

Which fabrics are petroleum based?

The fibers that are petroleum based are polyester, acrylic, spandex and nylon. These are the plastics in our clothing.

However, polyester lasts a lot longer than natural fibers generally do and makes the garment itself last longer. This life span of the garment is another factor to consider, in terms of waste and resources. You can think of polyester as a component of something you will wear for a long time, or which takes more friction, such as a blazer or pants. But avoid trendy styles and cheaply made clothing made out of polyester.

Spandex is a tricky one. It is often mixed with other fibers, not just for form-fitting athletic wear, but also to make the garment snap back into shape. This is especially important in jersey knit fabrics which can stretch out and sag. Just like polyester, spandex can prolong the life of the garment by helping it keep its form.

Nylon in socks does a similar thing. That I learned that from hand knitting socks and the fact that you can buy nylon to add to the heals and toes to make them last longer.

This has been my big lesson in learning about sustainability—it is never a cut and dry simple answer. Your best bet is to learn what you can and start with making better-than choices. When you get farther on that journey and you encounter not knowing which is better, you may have to decide what is your priority. Is it health of the oceans? Pollution in general? Climate change? Ethics and human impact? Health of your family members? Animal rights? Knowing your values and the why that calls you to action will guide you.

The clothing in the EcoPetites line

First of all, my primary value when facing the above dilemma is ethics and human impact. It may not always make the choice clear, but it starts the line of questions.

Let’s start with EcoPetites garments that contain polyester. First of all, I choose only recycled polyester. To find which garments contain polyester, click on the “recycled polyester” tag.

View of product sorting

When I designed the Grace skirts, I planned for durability. This is why I wanted the back panel, which will get most of the wearing friction, to last, and chose a fabric that contains 45% recycled polyester and 55% organic cotton. The durability of the front panel comes from hemp. The style is classic, so it can be worn until it wears out.

The best fabrics in the EcoPetites line for staying synthetic-free are the organic cotton and hemp blends. For example, the Phoebe Jacket and the Diana Wrap dress are both made from a knit jersey blend of 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton.

I hope to add more types of fabrics, especially my sustainability favorites, 100% organic cotton, Tencel™ and more hemp blends. Right now, my limit is purchasing power- I am still a tiny business. Follow along as EcoPetites grows and more can be offered, learning along the way.

Learn More:

1. We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?

Martin Ogonowski and Christoph Schür, Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), Stockholm University

2. The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution

De Falco, F., Di Pace, E., Cocca, M. et al. The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution. Sci Rep 9, 6633 (2019).

3. Our clothes shed microfibres – here’s what we can do…

By Sienna Somers,

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash