The Fatal Flaws of Fleece
By Judith Glixon/
This is the fourth in my series of articles about plastics. In December, I wrote about the harmful effects of plastic production, usage, and disposal on the health of humans, other animals, and ecosystems, and on the climate. I also offered some general suggestions for making changes. In January and February, I shared ideas and resources for replacing plastics in the kitchen and bathroom. This month I explore textiles (clothing & linens) and associated items.
Many of the textiles we use these days (including fleece) are made from petroleum-derived, plastic-based, synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester, spandex, acrylic, acetate, and kevlar. Sadly, in addition to all the harmful effects of plastics in general, every time we wash our synthetic clothes and bedding, tiny plastic particles are released into the water. (The effects of washing fabrics made from recycled plastics are just as damaging, by the way.) The final devastating consequence is that these microfibers are showing up in large quantities in many unexpected places, such as:
- Tap water
- Bottled water (Out of 20 different brands of bottled water that were tested, all but one contained plastic microfibers)
- Sea salt
- Our lungs (New research shows that we're now breathing microfibers into our lungs every day)
Alternatives to synthetics
Obviously this can't be healthy, but fortunately there are alternatives to synthetic fabrics. We can purchase fewer synthetics, and buy more textiles made of old favorites such as cotton, wool, silk, satin, and even rayon, which is made from bamboo. Certainly there are potential issues with the production of any of these more natural fabrics, but none are as serious and far-reaching as those connected with synthetics. We needn't view this as a step backwards, any more than converting to electric cars (which, according to Wikipedia, “first appeared in the mid-19th century”) is a regression. Thanks to innovation, “old fashioned” ideas and practices continue to be improved, resulting in useful and comfortable materials being sourced and produced in more humane and sustainable ways. In fact, it's become increasingly easy for consumers to buy, for example, organically grown cotton, humanely sourced wool, and vegan silk.
For those of us who are still laundering synthetics, there are at least four ways we can decrease the amount of petroleum-based microfibers we send to our waterways:
- Reduce the frequency with which we wash them
- Use a fiber-collecting ball in the washing machine. See: Cora Ball (www.coraball.com)
- Use a microplastic-catching filter in the washer and/or dryer to limit the amount of plastic fibers that go down the drain and into our waterways (see www.sciencefocus.com/news/microplastics-laundry-filters-dramatically-reduce-fibres)
- Use a dedicated microplastic-catching mesh bag in the washing machine(see https://en.reset.org/blog/laundry-wash-bag-against-microplastics-01052017)
(Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned in these articles, nor, in many cases, have I yet tested the products. Websites in these articles are included purely for informational reasons, based on my research, and I make no guarantees regarding their quality or effectiveness.)
Fasteners for textiles
Do you ever throw out old clothes? Attached to many of them are plastic fasteners like buttons, zippers, or velcro. If this is the case, it's probably best to donate the clothes so that the plastic parts can be reused. If they're too far gone to be donated, consider cutting off the buttons. You can donate them to preschools or kindergarten classrooms for craft-making projects or reuse them yourself!
If you make or mend your own clothes, the following ideas may also be of interest to you:
In my next article, I'll share what I've learned about plastic-free alternatives for some of the household items we haven't yet covered.