Your clothes, blankets, curtains, carpets, that umbrella covering your picnic table, seat cushions, all of it, is shedding trillions of nano- and micro-fibers of synthetic polymers. It’s found in bottled water, honey and beer. It’s in the tissues of clams, oysters and hundreds of other species on land and in the sea, including human lungs. Recent studies have found it falling from the sky, frozen in sea ice, and in the mud of rivers and the seafloor everywhere we look. We are living in lint.
Does it matter? The stuff of fluff is sticky to toxins, like the excess pesticides running off farms and oil drops off highways, to the 10,000+ chemicals that we’ve invented with carbon chains that have an affinity to plastic and a phobia toward seawater. Scientist agree that plastic at sea becomes toxic, and new science today shows the desorption of these toxicants while the fibers float in animal guts have dire consequences.
But everyone loves polyester? Conservatively, there’s enough clothing in closets to give everyone a synthetic outfit, including a pair of socks, undies, shirt and pants. That totals over 50 billion items for the population of the planet, and the wastewater of all that washing goes out to sea by wind or water.
What can be done? After reviewing mitigation efforts from textile manufactures, washing machine industry, waste management and septic maintenance folks, we came up with a series of solutions. It’s going to take a revolution in what we wear, how we wear it, wash it, and where the wastewater goes.
Weave: Textile Quality Matters
Invest in heirloom products. Design for long life utility and fashion.
Reduce transitional fashion. This is the stuff that’s intentionally in style for a few months or less. Design is typically low quality of textile and poor durability of stitching.
Single fiber vs. a felt. Felt and fleece shed more than most other textile styles. New technologies can make a shirt with one loooooong fiber! They shed a lot less.
Single polymer vs. multiple polymer. Single polymer for the entire article of clothing means it’s more easily recycled. So, manufactures need to match the textile with the stitching.
Use natural or novel polymers (synthetic spider silk: https://boltthreads.com/) How about hemp fiber? Bamboo? There’s new and traditional natural fibers that work beautifully.
Wear: Wear It Like You Want It to Last
Again, it’s heirloom culture vs. transitional fashion. What does the consumer value? Do you like vintage quality fashion?
Wash: Is It Really Dirty?
Be gentle. Washing machine type matters. Research shows that top load washers are far more stressful on clothing than front load washers.
Is it really dirty? Washing garments in the U.S. is habitually done each time something is worn, regardless of being soiled or not. Fewer washes means less fibers shed and a longer lasting garment.
Waste: Don’t Feed the Smog of the Sea!
Commercial and residential Laundromats MUST filter their discharges to air and water.
Replace that tattered textile. Non-clothing textiles with high environmental exposure (flags, sails, tarps, construction materials, banners, etc.) are sometimes left flapping in the wind. These are HUGE sources of fibers. Remove, replace or rebuild something more permanent if needed.