Another thing to feel guilty about.

Via Treehugger: Say! Did you know that laundering your synthetic clothing may be contributing to ocean pollution?

Apparently studies have found that washing releases up to 1900 microfibres from each piece of synthetic clothing per wash. These bits of plastic are too small to be removed by conventional filtres and water treatment, so the plastic washes out to sea, where it (along with microbeads) contributes to a serious ocean pollution problem.

This strikes me as one of those rare pieces of environmental news that has direct relevance to home sewers. While I prefer natural fibres myself, sometimes they’re just not available locally at a price that is reasonable. And sometimes they’re plain not available locally. I searched high and low for stretch cotton twill for my recent Jasmine pants, but in the end the only stretch twill I could find had a substantial poly content.

I’m in general opposed to lifestyle-scale solutions for global-scale problems, so I’m not going to tell you what kind of fabric you should buy. As the article itself notes, given how much sheddable synthetic clothing is already in circulation, that likely wouldn’t address the problem anyway, and what we really need are better filtration systems (though this raises the question of what to do with all those bits of plastic that would be flushed out of our domestic sewage systems).

Still, as home sewers, we have managed to create (or at least increase) a reasonable supply or organic and local fabrics; maybe, if there were enough demand, less easily shed synthetics would be created and sold.

In the meantime, this may be another good argument for laundering clothing less frequently. In addition to the waste of water and electricity and the pollution of water from soaps and detergents, we’re plasticizing the oceans. Fantastic. So how about we only wash our clothes when they’re dirty?

7 thoughts on “Another thing to feel guilty about.

  1. I wonder how that impacts my septic over time….and I wonder if this will help add fuel to my argument with Viv that yes, you CAN wear pants more than once. :p

  2. Cripes. I am sure this applies to wool as well. Last time I was at Mountain Equipment Coop there was one (1!) all cotton tee shirt in the women’s section. And thordora’s comment has me worrying about MY septic system now. Probably not a huge problem; the stuff is very small.

  3. I think your phrase “I’m in general opposed to lifestyle-scale solutions for global-scale problems” hit home for me. I feel very strongly about a lot of environmental issues and change my personal behavior accordingly, but I don’t know how to join the larger conversation involving policy (although your replies to one of my previous comments was interesting and helpful). What I do think lifestyle changes can do well is teach people a more thoughtful mindset; for instance, I started gardening a couple of years ago and it’s reinforced things like how much water is really needed to grow food in ways that I wouldn’t have learned so effectively from a book. And hell yes to washing things when they’re truly dirty.

    1. It’s not that I think lifestyle-scale solutions are useless (and I hope it didn’t come across that way); but they’re not solutions, in and of themselves. When the experts are saying that we need to decarbonize the western economy by 2025, and we’re still building coal plants with a 50-year lifespan, it’s not hard to see that changing lightbulbs and bringing reusable bags will fall far short. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing to change lightbulbs and bring reusable bags (which I do too). It’s just nowhere near enough.

      It can encourage a more thoughtful mindset, for sure. I think one of the things I’ve learned from dyeing cloth and sewing clothes is just how hard it is, which has changed my perspective on the things that I buy. Ultimately, though, I’m a proponent of the idea that no one should have to be thoughtful to live a life that’s not destructive of the planet. It should be automatic. It should be that our societal systems don’t allow for destructive choices–that when you go to the store to buy lightbulbs, there are no lightbulbs there that would be damaging to the planet to buy. That you don’t need to consider whether toothpaste brand x’s toxicity is better or worse than brand y’s excess packaging, or whether it’s better to support shell’s funding of nigeria’s army and its massacres vs. petro-canada’s very high sulphur content and the smog-releated deaths it causes. (Ummm … Happy Wednesday!)

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