Reducing plastic waste by doing your laundry differently!

Inspired by the Marine Conservation Society’s Stop Ocean Threads campaign, we decided to get down on paper everything you need to know about the issue surrounding microfibres, our washing habits at home and how we can make some easy changes.

It may not be the obvious first thought of where to look for plastic in our homes but plastic microfibres from synthetic materials such as those found in our clothing is one of the top sources of microplastics in the ocean (second only to car tyres!). Around 60% of the material that makes up our clothes are plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and lycra, and this type of clothing is being churned out like never before. Fast fashion companies produce around 53 million tons of clothes annually, if the industry keeps this up it will reach 160 million tons by 2050! And these cheaply produced outfits don’t stay in use for long, in fact on average us Brits send 300,000 tonnes of textiles to landfill each year. And that's just part of the problem.

Every time we wash our clothes an average of 9 MILLION microfibres are released into waste water treatment works as a result of the friction in each load. Too small to treat and be filtered out, these fibres head straight for the ocean. These fibres break down into tiny particles that are now being found in zooplankton, shellfish and fry (baby fish). As these microplastics are present in the bottom of the food chain they are also present in everything in between, all the way up to basking sharks and blue whales.

So what can we do?

The Plastic Soup Foundation campaign Ocean Clean Wash provides some great tips of what we can do as consumers:

  1. Fill up your washing machine - a fuller load means less friction between clothes and therefore fewer fibres are shed.

  2. Use laundry liquid - the grains of washing powder loosen fibres which creates shedding.

  3. Use fabric softener (ideally plant-based & refillable) - once again we’re looking to reduce friction here.

  4. Wash your clothes at a lower temperature - microfibres are less likely to become damaged and snap off.

  5. Avoid those long washes - keeping the cycle short and sweet to reduce friction between fabrics.

  6. If you dry your clothes in a tumble dryer then opt for lower revolutions where possible - higher revs will create more friction.

  7. If possible try to avoid buying synthetic clothing and look for natural, sustainably source materials.

  8. Invest in a Guppy Bag or Cora ball which help trap fibres before they leave the machine and head to the waste water treatment works. 

But of course, necessary change is not the responsibility of the consumer alone. We need to see fashion companies move away from fast fashion and promote circularity. This can be achieved by encouraging consumers to keep apparel in use for as long as possible (by creating higher quality more thought out clothing that can last) and stop the use of raw materials in clothing production and instead reuse what’s out there.

Some companies are doing an amazing job at this. We at Sero Zero Waste have recently started working with a progressive and innovative company called Samudra. Samudra are a UK based company that make activewear using a material called ECONYL®. Through collection of waste from both land and ocean, ECONYL® regenerates ocean plastic into a fibre which is then used to make up a variety of high spec fabrics - literally taking plastic out of the ocean and landfill and making it beautiful, useful and long lasting. Check out these amazing scrunchies now available on our online shop and in store, made from left over material from the production of their activewear.

While companies like this give us hope, these changes won’t happen over night but we can look at other solutions in the process. An effective way to stop microfibre pollution is to fit filters on washing machines as standard practice. The Marine Conservation Society are asking for us to all add our voice in their Stop Ocean Threads campaign, calling for the UK government to legislate that all washing machine manufacturers fit microfibre filters in all new domestic and commercial machines by 2023, and that all existing machines are retrofitted by 2024. Check it out and sign the petition! 

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