3 tiny steps all of us can take to reduce microplastic in our oceans

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1.4 million trillion. That is the number of synthetic fibers in our oceans. Every time we wash our fleece vest or running tights at least 1,900 microplastic fibres enter our rivers and oceans. Imagine you wash all the sports clothes you wore in the past week: Running tights, yoga pants, sports bra, a t-shirt, and a jacket. Five items. That means almost 10,000 microplastic fibres are flushed into our water ways. That are almost 500,000 tiny plastic particles in a year. For only your sports clothes!

Because these fibres are so tiny, water treatment plants can not filter them out. As a result, they end up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. This is a HUGE problem, because animals cannot see the difference between food and plastic. Fish eat it. And that fish may well end up on our plates…

"The things you discard maybe become your food" is what this Chinese poster in Beijing says.

“The things you discard maybe become your food” is what this Chinese poster in Beijing says.

Thankfully, we can all easily do something about this problem.

These are three tiny steps you can take to reduce plastic in our oceans

Going shopping? Check the labels!

There are lots and lots of clothes out there that contain plastic fibres. Check the labels to be sure you are not buying plastic. Most common are polyester, spandex, nylon, and acrylic. To be safe, choose materials such as cotton, wool, linen, silk, or bamboo.

Over the past years, I have experimented with non-synthetic alternatives. I now use woolen or cotton socks, woolen running tights (the brand is called Icebreaker), and I am planning to replace my fleece (it’s falling apart) with a woolen vest.

Wash less often

The less often you wash your clothes, the less particles get into our waterways. While this does not solve the problem, it reduces it. If instead of washing your running tights every week, you only wash them every other week, this means almost 50,000 fewer plastic particles!

Intuitively you may think “gross! I don’t want to stink.” Of course you don’t. But I have noticed that some items don’t need to be washed every week. Sport t-shirts get easily smelly, but this is much less the case for my running tights or the running jacket that I wear on top of a t-shirt. Also, I have made it a habit to hang my clothes outside for a while rather than throwing them on a big pile, where they much easier get smelly.

Tell companies to take action

Even if you and I completely stop buying synthetic clothes, the problem will not be solved because not everyone has the time or interest to do the same. This is why we need to get industry on board to acknowledge the problem and work on solutions.

One of such solutions is a filter for washing machines to avoid that plastics go down the drain. The Plastic Soup Foundation is working on developing this product. You can read more about it here. Still not the perfect solution, but at least this may help avoid trashing our oceans.

You can contact your favorite clothing brand and tell them to do something about the problem, but even more convenient is to simply sign the petition that the Story of Stuff people have put on their website. You can sign here and please share this blog post, the video, and/or the petition with your friends and family.

Together we can make a difference. Let’s start today!

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About Author

Annemieke

In 2013, after reading yet another article about plastic soup, Annemieke started her Dutch blog Plasticminimalism where she documented her small steps towards a plastic-free life. To create more awareness about the adverse impacts of our plastic consumption, she launched Plastic-Free Tuesday in spring 2014. She strongly believes that building a better world starts by changing our own behavior. Annemieke is an environmental scientist and sinologist. She alternates living in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, and China while working towards her PhD dissertation about public health incidents and law in China.

4 Comments

  1. Icebreaker Merino Stuff still contains a certain amount of polyester though.
    I’m studying applied limnology so I’m very aware of the issue but also really need clothing made from polyester – waterproofs, waders etc. can’t go on a field survey without them. I think the solution really lies in filtering fibres right where it starts – at the washing machine.

    • Annemieke

      Thanks for your comment, Leo! I totally agree with you, we must filter out the fibers before it flushes from our washing machines to our lakes. In the meanwhile we can try to avoid plastic fibers in our clothing. My Icebreaker running tights still contains some lycra, but only 4%, which is must less than in the typical running tights. It is hard to find alternatives for waterproof clothing, I have the same problem, but then again, you won’t wash that kind of clothes on a regular basis.

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