With World Water Day tomorrow, and seeing our water system flooded with micro plastic waste, many of which comes from synthetic clothes, what can you *actually* do to reduce micro fibre pollution?
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that
he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved
so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins
had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.
But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they
were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
― Douglas Adams,
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
There is no denying: we’re sinking in micro plastic waste.
Rivers. Seas. Oceans. Bottled water. Beer. Honey. Fish. All infused with potentially toxin-contaminated micro plastic particles.
If you’ve been reading BEAUTYCALYPSE for a while, you’ll remember me talking about how to spot and avoid micro plastic in your daily life, complete with a “micro plastic in skincare and textiles – cheat sheet”, have probably read about the Codecheck & BUND Microplastics investigation – so you’ll supposedly have the same sense of urgency, seeing how quickly the micro particles made their way back to us, right onto our plates and into our beverages.
Just one thing before we discuss tips and tricks to reduce micro particle waste from textiles. The matter is urgent, yes. But beware of people spiralling into an uninformed “plastic hysteria”. Not all plastics are created equal, there are non-toxic and recyclable synthetics out there as well.
Back to the micro plastic from textiles: being an Ethical Fashionista goes beyond shopping fun and wear pledge hashtags.
And to celebrate World Water Day 2018, I did something not quite typical – I went shopping. And I bought two Guppyfriend washing bags.
Guppyfriend is a washing bag designed to reduce fibre breakage and leaking – basically a filter mesh bag. It first made an appearance on a crowdfunding platform in 2016, and has kind of taken off, mostly among eco-savvy outdoor sports enthusiasts and eco-fair consumers.
Made of untreated, uncoated, clinical use-grade Polyamide 6.6 monofilaments, Guppyfriend washing bags don’t shed any micro fibres themselves. Now let’s have a look.
So, why a washing bag, you may ask?
During the washing process, all clothes – yes, the natural ones as well – lose fibres that then end up in the water system and in the environment. Abrasion from rubbing against other clothes, the mechanical movement and a high rotation of the washing machine, water temperature and hardness, and even undissolved washing powder crystals do that to textiles, already “weakened” due to us wearing them. Those fibres are called micro fibres because they are typically often not thicker than 10µm, or 0.001 mm.
The Guppyfriend washing bag does two things.
First, it protects the garments from fibre breakage, which has been confirmed by the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT: textiles washed in the bag release up to 86% less fibres.
But Guppyfriend filter mesh is then also fine enough to retain up to 100% of the broken micro fibres (remember however that dust or nanoparticles/ dissolved or broken coatings from garment finishes can’t be filtered), which they are working on confirming with tests. The end result depends heavily on the textiles washed, their age, their fabrication method, the washing habits and many more factors, but I’m looking forward to seeing that test.
After a couple washes, you wipe the insides of the Guppyfriend washing bag (don’t wash it! this ruins the whole concept!) and dispose of it in your household trash bag, where it’s least likely to be blown away and end up in the eco-system.
Where to get your Guppyfriend:
During the Abury-hosted AEG Care Labels Greenshowroom/ Ethical Fashion Show conference talk held in January, I was able to ask an AEG engineer just that. AEG Care Labels is a great collaborative programme promoting taking proper care of our clothes, reducing dry cleaning, and showcasing advanced technology. So, my question was: Are they aware of the problem and could anything be done with the washing machines to reduce micro fibre pollution? (I knew the answer beforehand, but it felt right to bring up the topic – as I was sure many attendees haven’t really thought about the micro fibre waste before.)
And the answer to the question is: Yes, they are aware. No, nothing can be changed in the washing machines right now. The problem with micro fibres is their size – any filters in a washing machine would be blocked within seconds.
Even Guppyfriend creators say that investing in one or several of their washing bags, €29,75 apiece, is only going to help a little:
“Other solutions besides the washing bag need to follow. Now. Not in 5 years. But it’s not only the industry that has to provide solutions. It’s also us: Buy better and less, wash only if really necessary, substitute synthetic fibers with (environmentally sustainable) wool or cotton, etc.”
So, what can you do?
What can we do?
+ Buy certified organic, or at least non-toxic clothes.
For synthetic textiles, check out Bluesign, and for natural fibres: GOTS and IVN Best. The reason behind it is quite simple – natural or synthetic textiles, they will all shed fibres. If those are chemically treated, the chemicals will end in the waterways and the fibres, albeit bio-degradable at some point when it comes to natural fibres, will sit around in the ecosystem where they don’t belong.
+ Wash garmens less often, wash in cold water and at lower speed, with liquid detergents (powders can contain abrasive particles).
By the way, my favourite liquid detergent for synthetic clothes is SODASAN Sport – originally I tried it for our sportswear and outdoor clothing, but I use it to wash mixed and natural fibre clothes as well.
It’s made in Germany, has a fresh smell from essential oils, is certified with Ecocert and the Vegan Society and safe to use even with Gore-Tex, Sympatex and the likes.
If you’re an outdoorsy type or have a lot of sportswear, yoga wear and other functional wear to wash, check this one out.
+ Don’t use tumble dryers.
Drying your clothes in the tumble dryer releases more fibres that you can’t even filter with a washing bag.
Air-drying for the win!
+ Stay informed and be conscious of decisions you make.
Consider the full circle of things, the impact around its manufacturing, use, and disposal. How they were produced, what raw materials were required, how do you take care of them propery and where does it belong at the end of its life. Also check out this Guppyfriend 10 for the ocean guide as well as these books on plastic and micro plastic pollution.
+ Also check out the official UN Water World Water Day site for inspiration and more information regarding all things water protection:
Article updated on June 14 2018 with the link to the Guppyfriend 10 for the ocean guide.