Published on March 17th, 2017 | by Guest Contributor

Should We Really Recycle Plastic into Clothing?

Seems like turning recycled plastic bottles into clothing is a great closed-loop system: you drink the bottled water, recycle the container, and then great companies like Patagonia and Nomadix turn the recycled plastic into clothing and usable products. Pretty cool solution, right?

But there seems to be a problem with this innovation: tiny, invisible microfibers break off from these items when in the wash (or from use, I’m guessing), and end up in our water supply, which then makes its way to rivers, lakes, and streams. Once these microplastics are in the ocean, the suck up other localized pollution and turn into ‘little toxic bombs’ that are then eaten by fish, and if you eat animals, in us.

All of this information was new to me, and while I’ve always loved my recycled jackets, fleece, and mats that are made from recycled plastics, seems like we need a better solution.

The good folks at The Story of Stuff – a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up our planet and sharing great videos along the way – have created a new video entitled The Story of Microfibers. Watch it above (it’s only a few minutes long!), and then click over to their site to learn more. WWD quotes The Story of Stuff executive director Michael O’Heaney: “We wanted to make sure we had the right content and the right tone — the idea is to encourage apparel companies to take note of the issue and start to work on solutions; help the public understand the issue but not antagonize the industry.”

One of the solutions proposed is a garment bag from Patagonia that capture the fiber.

Here are some fast facts about microfibers from The Story of Stuff and Patagonia

  • There are 1.4 million trillion plastic microfibers in our oceans 
  • Microfibers were discovered as a direct, major source of plastic pollution more than five years ago, but clothing brands have been slow to respond to this growing threat.
  • Microfibers can come from all synthetic materials, not just those that are recycled. Yoga pants, sweatshirts, even undies.
  • Microfibers found in our oceans can originate from a wide variety of textiles (such as nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic or spandex), which shows the need for engagement on this issue by the entire apparel industry and through all steps in the product life cycle.
  • Apparel products are not the only source of microplastic particles that are entering the oceans.
  • Garments of a higher quality shed less in the wash than low-quality synthetic products, illustrating the importance for manufacturers and consumers alike to invest in gear built to last.
  • Patagonia recommends washing synthetic clothing less often, using a washing bag specifically created to catch microfibers, like GuppyFriend, and/or installing a filter on your washing machine to catch excess fibers.

Take action against microfibers

If this is something that seems important to you, you can sign their petition. The petition allows you – the consumer – to call on clothing brands to:

  1. Publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the pollution threat that microfibers pose
  2. Commit to investments of time and resources to investigate and test potential Solutions
  3. Share what they learn with each other and the public

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