Many people are now aware of some of the major issues faced in the clothing industry; overflowing landfills, poor working conditions, and wasteful production methods are front and center in the discussion of sustainable clothing. However, there is a physically small but massive problem that few people are aware of: Microplastics. They are currently in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.
You might ask ‘What does this have to do with clothing?’ A major source of these microplastics comes from the clothing we wear, as all synthetic fabrics are made from plastic. That includes anything made with polyester, fleece, Gortex, and spandex. While these microplastics are very small on their own (microplastics are defined as any particle less than the size of a sesame seed) we know the little things add up and for over 50 years they have been contaminating the oceans, rivers, and lakes of the world.
This problem can be found everywhere. At the moment, each year, there are 8 MILLION TONS of plastic that enter the world’s oceans. That is the equivalent of one dump truck every minute. A common way these microplastics enter our water sources is through our household washing machines. When we wash clothing made from synthetic fibers they shed microplastics into the water. The water is then drained back into the system. Unfortunately, these particles are so small that they can not be filtered out by water treatment. So they ultimately end up in our lakes and oceans. A Fleece jacket will shed 2000 pieces of microplastics per wash cycle. Times that by the number of times a garment is washed. That gives you an idea of the problem we are facing. It has gotten to the point where plastics can now be found in almost all water birds and fish on the planet. This isn’t just a human issue.
Recently we have seen great strides in the reduction of single-use plastics, but we still have so much work to do. From shopping bags to coffee lids to the clothes we wear, plastic is used and discarded daily. There are solutions to these issues. Using multi-use grocery bags, reusable water bottles, paper or metal straws are now commonplace. We must now consider the impact of our clothes and try to buy natural fiber clothing as often as possible. This type of clothing will biodegrade over time. Unfortunately, there are limitations to the application of these materials as they don’t always present the best functionality. A rain jacket made from Goretex is a good example of this, as it provides protection from the elements in ways natural fabrics never could. What we can do is reduce the amount we wash our synthetic clothing and if we are going to wash synthetic materials we should use a microplastic catching bag. Our team did some research and recommends the ones provided by Pearl Products.
We created our North Face Rework Collection as a way bring awareness to this big problem. If we can continue to find uses for our ‘end of cycle’ synthetic clothing, whether that is recycling the fabrics or upcycling them into something new, we believe that we can reduce the presence of these plastics in our water systems. If we create less new products, recycle what we already have, wash less and use microplastic catching bags then we can make a big difference.