Sustainable Living Challenge

Week 34: The Ocean Doesn’t Want Your Microfibers

It came from outer space! Well…not really. It actually came from us and our clothing. Those dreaded microfibers. Almost every time we wash our clothes, they slip down our pipes and out into the ocean. And more and more studies are finding these microfibers in the stomachs of marine animals. But what are they? And how are our clothes causing this problem? This week, it’s all about microfibers and what we can do to stop them from going into the ocean!

What are Microfibers?

When we think of plastic pollution, we often think about bottles and bags. However, the devil is in the details. Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are <5mm in size. And for such tiny objects, they can certainly wreak a lot of havoc. In fact, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised largely of these microplastics. They can come from microbeads (such as those found in face-wash before 2015), degraded plastic, and microfibers. Microfibers are essentially tiny pieces of plastic “fiber” that originate from synthetic materials like polyester, fleece, acrylic, or nylon.

Why are They in the Ocean?

Synthetic fabric is a staple in just about every closet nowadays (including mine). If you workout regularly, you probably have a “moisture-wicking” shirt somewhere in your wardrobe. Even if you don’t, you most likely own clothing made with synthetic materials like polyester (I’m looking at you leggings). These items seem harmless enough, right? Well the problem is that clothes shed fibers every time you wash them. In the case of synthetic fabrics, that means these clothes shed plastic every time you wash them. And sadly, our water treatment facilities are not currently equipped to catch these microfibers before they end up in our waterways.

Tiny Terrors

Microplastics are an entirely new area of study within the scientific community. As a result, we are still not fully certain of the extent to which microfibers are affecting our wildlife. However, we do know that a wide variety of species are consuming plastic like microfibers. In certain species, like crabs, the consumption of microfibers leads to less food consumption overall, which drastically affects their health. And while mostly smaller creatures like crustaceans are consuming these microfibers, these fibers do not get broken down into organic materials in the digestion process. This means that these microfibers are making their way up the food chain into wildlife great and small.

Stopping Microfibers at the Source

So what do we about all these microfibers? Well, let me introduce you to a couple of genius ideas that are working to put a stop to this problem! The next time you do your laundry, I hope you do it with the aid of a Cora Ball or a Guppyfriend. These two products work in different ways to stop microfibers from polluting our waters. The Cora Ball, as the name implies, was inspired by the way corals filter the oceans. This funky looking ball is made from 100% recycled plastic, and can be recycled by the Cora Ball company. We simply chuck ours in the wash and trash the microfibers it collects after a few washes.

The Guppyfriend is a washing bag that collects microfibers as you wash your clothes. Like the Cora Ball, it works to stop these microfibers from going down your drain. While I have not used this method myself, other influencers like Shelbizlee, really like the Guppyfriend. Although these are new technologies, studies already reveal that these items can reduce the amount of microfibers entering our waterways!

The Next Time You Buy Clothes

I am clearly not a saint when it comes to owning clothing made solely from eco-friendly fabrics. I don’t plan on getting rid of my leggings anytime soon. I figure, they already exist, so I might was well get as much wear out of them as possible. However, when it comes to buying new clothes, I recommend sticking to natural fibers like cotton, hemp, bamboo, and wool. It’s best to buy natural fibers that are also used. However, if you decide to buy new clothes made from natural fibers, make sure they are also organic. While I am not a new fashion guru, I recommend checking out ethical brands like Everlane and Amour Vert. Eco Warrior Princess is a great blog to check out if you are interested in sustainable fashion. She mostly focuses on Australian brands, but you can also find ideas for eco-friendly American brands on her site!

While microfibers have the ability to wreak havoc on our environment, we also have the ability to do something about them. So I hope you check out the Cora Ball and Guppyfriend and let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading!