By Eleanor Turner, Founder of The Big Favorite
There is plastic hidden in our clothes! Disguised as polyester, elastane, lycra and other forms, it leaches microplastics into our water supplies, our food chains, and into our bodies. So how did it get there and why is it affecting soil health and our health?
Clothing and textiles are one of the primary sources of microplastics. As pressure was put on clothing to become cheaper, manufacturers and suppliers started blending polyester and other plastic fibers with natural fibers. When these partially or fully plastic textiles are manufactured, worn, washed in the laundry, and dried, they release tiny plastic fibers into the water and the air. Traditional water filtration systems are not set up to filter out these tiny plastic particles, leaching them into our water and soils. They eventually end up in our bodies. In fact, it’s estimated we eat one credit card of plastic a week. Plastic has even been found in human blood.
Microplastics from clothing are more dangerous than what we thought for a few reasons. Plastics, including plastic-blended fabrics, contain EDCs, or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. These chemicals interfere with the way our bodies’ hormones work. They’ve been linked to adverse health outcomes like infertility and cancer.
Over a third (35 percent) of all microplastics released into the world's oceans are from synthetic textiles. Between half a million and a million tons of plastic microfibres are discharged into wastewater each year from the washing of synthetic clothes. These microplastics ultimately release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other water sources, and the rest of the ecosystem, including our food sources.
Environmental contamination by microplastics is considered a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Soil ecosystems, particularly agricultural land, have been recognized as a major risk. It was found that when types of microplastics, and microplastic clothing fibers were added to soil, fewer seeds germinated, shoot height was significantly smaller, there was a decrease in soil pH, and the size distribution of water-stable soil aggregates was altered, suggesting potential changes in soil stability. The ACS study provides evidence that microplastics, and synthetic fibers affect the development of plants and crops, with potential further impacts on soil ecosystem function.
What to avoid in your clothing to help cultivate water and soil health:
You may never have checked the content label on the inside of your clothing. Each time you consider buying a piece of clothing, give it a look. When you do, you will find words like “polyester,” “nylon,” “polyamide,” “acrylic,'' “elastane,” and others. These are examples of plastic materials very commonly used in clothing. Avoid clothing with these materials whenever possible and choose natural fibers like cotton, hemp, linen, wool, etc. By making the switch to plastic-free clothing, you are helping to mitigate the amount of microplastics that enter our environment, our ecosystems, and our bodies. This change shifts dollars and focus towards sustainability and away from the unethical practices of fast fashion.
Other Steps to Take:
Wash your clothing at cold temperatures so that it is less likely to wash out plastic fibers.
Wash your clothing in a special bag like this one from Guppyfriend, which collects microfibers in the wash and prevents them from entering rivers and oceans.
Try air drying. Tumble drying is more aggressive and can cause your clothes to shed more plastic.
Keep your clothing for longer. Your clothes are likely to shed more plastic in the first few washes. Frequently changing your wardrobe will increase the amount of plastic you’re putting in the environment.