Coming Out in the Wash - the problem with plastic clothes

Empty Washing Line and Pegs

My partner has prompted me to address an issue. Multiple studies have shown that microfibres released when washing plastic-based clothing (i.e. polyester, acrylic, nylon etc) form a major part of plastic pollution in the oceans (source). Too small to be filtered out by grey water processing plants they simply wash straight into the seas, where because of their small size and tasty-seeming appearance, they are consumed by plankton, krill and other small creatures, entering and building up in the food chain.

This presents us with a problem. Usually the policy in our household is to keep hold of, and look after, any plastics we already have, as they cause a great deal less potential damage in the home than being let loose in recycling or waste, where we have no control over where they end up. But, evidently, using and washing plastic-based clothing is still managing to pollute our precious water systems.

So what to do? As a stepping stone (since we don’t have the ready cash to buy an entirely new wardrobe in one go), we have decided to go through our clothing, towels and sheets and remove anything we already have that contains more than 25% artificial fibre straight away, and of course anything new bought has to be 100% natural fibres, of which there are a great range of superb options! My partner started going through the labels whilst hanging up the mornings washing. Luckily, underwear seems to be generally 100% cotton, so no need to go commando for now. However I suspect that some of my old faithfuls might not pass the test, and I shall be sad to see key items I associate with my ‘style’ (if you can call it that) go. We shall also need to press upon enthusiastic grannies and great aunts that we need future baby knitwear creations to be made of real wool from now on.

Also, do we release this plastic clothing to second-hand stores (where it will just be washed by someone else), throw it away or parcel it up and bury it in the loft for all time? I pondered that putting it out to second hand would not actually increase the number of other households putting on washes, however it is still plastic, set loose in the world, and therefore against our principals. I’m going to let the internal jury deliberate for now.