An unfortunate stitch-uation

We’ve all heard about microbeads, but get ready for microfibers. 

So I’m as big a fleece fan as any outdoorsy twenty-something on the west coast. Owner of two Patagonia fleeces. So it breaks my ocean-loving heart to say this, but synthetic fabrics, including fleece, are ruining our ocean ecosystems.

microfibers

Microscopic microfibers. Photo retrieved from Teton Gravity Research.

Here’s the stitch-uation – tiny fibers from synthetic clothing, like acrylics and polyester, make their way from the washing machine to the oceans whenever they’re washed. This means that a high abundance of these microfibers are found near shorelines, where wastewater is released. The size of these microfibers makes them very easy to ingest for ocean organisms, and that can cause all sorts of problems; because of the stringy shape of microfibers, they can easily get caught and entangled in fish digestive systems. This is obviously a less-than-ideal situation for the fish, and it impacts us as well.

We’re impacted through the unfortunate process known as bioaccumulation – essentially when particles taken up by creatures remain in the tissue, to be consumed by that creature’s predator, and so on. Oftentimes this predator is us. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t much fancy the idea of microfibers in my body.

Now, this issue seems to be getting less attention than microbeads, even though it is a hugely important issue to address. This could be because of lack of research and knowledge on the subject, or because all efforts are focused on microbeads, or perhaps because the fact that everyone has synthetic clothing and solving this problem would be really, really, really complicated. At any rate, microfibers are not going to disappear overnight.

Patagonia has funded some research on the topic, and seem to be committed to taking a leadership role in beginning to address the issue of microfibers. As an owner of two Patagonia fleeces, I have to say I’m pretty proud of the company for stepping forward. Patagonia states that high quality fabrics seem to shed less microfibers than low quality, and stress the importance of manufacturing long-lived products. Additionally, the company states that they will try to distribute tips on how to minimize microfiber shedding, along with further developing bio-based fabrics.

fleece

Me, in one of my cherished Patagonia fleeces. Jasper, AB.

There are other ways to minimize microfiber pollution as well. Some ways included in Plastic Pollution Coalition’s “15 Ways to Stop Microfiber Pollution Now” are washing synthetic clothing less frequently, throwing lint away instead of washing it down the sink, and finding organic fabric alternatives. They also mention the Guppy Friend – a bag you can wash your synthetic fabrics in to trap microfibers that are shed.

There is always hope, and for the issue of microfibers, finding solutions begins with lots of conversation and some slight changes to the way we treat our clothing. I am going to try to wash synthetics less, and when I do, use a Guppy Friend or find a lint filter. Let’s all defeat microfibers together!

-H

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