Microplastics & Microfibres: how we're eating them and what we can do to reduce them

Luck happened that I met Christina Dean, a pioneer in the sustainable fashion industry. She is founder and CEO of Redress a Hong Kong based environmental NGO, working to reduce waste in the Fashion industry, and the R Collective, a sustainable fashion brand who are reimagining the future of fashion using up-cycled materials.

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Christina is changing the industry from the inside out, whilst we have the power to change it from the outside in through our behavioural actions.

Microplastics / Fibres : a Threat to our Oceans & Our Own Health

This article is a take on Christina’s interview with filmmaker Craig Leeson, Director of A Plastic Ocean, on the invisible, yet enormous worldwide problem of microfibres that threaten our oceans, and our own health.

Why Care?

  • Each year 8 million tonnes of small plastic fibres enter our ocean that affect the delicate ecosystem.

  • Microfibres are eaten by fish that make their way up the food chain and into our bodies affecting our own hormonal balance and are linked to a number of other health problems.

  • Recent studies have found microfibres in human faeces.

  • Projections estimate that by 2050 there will be more than 22 million tonnes of microfibres in the ocean, outweighing fish in weight.

  • Estimates predict around 700,000 microfibres are released in a single wash cycle.

Our Responsibility for Microplastics & Microfibres

Fashion is one of the main culprits of microplastics and microfibre that are released into the oceans from synthetic fibres. From our sportswear, to spanx, to glitter tops, 63% of our clothing is synthetic, originating from oil, they all generate microfibres.

Craig Leeson, the director of A Plastic Ocean states that banning synthetic fibres from fashion is not the answer as they play an important part in the industry from athleisure to outdoor wear. Polyester is also cheaper and more durable than cotton so it is likely to stay in the industry. There is also a move towards the upcycling of polyester materials, rather than it making its way to landfill.

Leeson points to the urgent need for behavioural change and awareness of how to mitigate this problem.

It’s time to reduce those microfibres in you, your poop, and in the ocean

Top tips to reduce microfibres release through washing:

  1. Don’t overwash - the less washing = fewer microfibres released

  2. Spot clean - wash only the dirty part of the clothing

  3. Wash at a lower temperature - fewer microfibres are released at a lower temperature

  4. Wash using shorter cycles - less time in the machine = fewer microfibres released

  5. Wash with a full load as it softens the abrasion in the machine

  6. Use a Guppy Friend Bag - bags that you put your dirty synthetic clothes in whilst washing that collects the microfibres stopping them going in waterways

  7. Use a liquid detergent (my favourite is Ecover, a natural based product protecting the water quality, and our water bodies too)

  8. Line dry, do not tumble dry

  9. Love your clothes and keep them for as long as possible as fewer microfibres are released in older clothes.

  10. Use clothes spray that cleans your clothes such as the M.I.H jean spray.

  11. Air, or freeze your clothes to refresh your clothes and reduce the need to wash them.

Having an impact on the world can start with your washing, it’s time to clean up our acts!