As much as we love natural fibers like wool and cotton, today's synthetic fabrics are too cheap and soft to resist. But is turns out that a single piece of clothing can shed 1,900 plastic fibers per washing machine cycle. Researchers have long wondered where the tiny bits of plastic that pollute the world's oceans come from, and they finally have a culprit
--those microscopic fibers.
Called "microplastics," these little pollutants are the end result of polyester, polyamide, polypropylene, and acrylic fabrics being tossed in washing machines. Once they travel through water treatment facilities out to the rivers and finally to sea, they enter the food chain
. Small creatures such as mussels end up inadvertently eating them, and the plastics become part of their body tissue.
So what can you do to help keep the ocean life on the low end of the food chain plastic-free? Keep your waste water plastic free. Read the labels on your clothing
: Know your wardrobe. Some items might be so soft you'd swear they were cotton--but they might really be poly-cotton blends or acrylics. Figuring out the fakes from the naturals is the first step.Spot clean instead of washing
: Are you habitually throwing clothes in the hamper after every wearing? If you dripped coffee on your shirt or your child has an off-color splotch on his hoodie, try cleaning off just the spot in the bathroom sink. Air out instead of washing
: If your garments don't have spots but you've worn them and feel they're not fresh, string up a clothesline in the yard and let them air out for a few hours. If you don't have a clothesline, try tossing them in the dryer for a cool tumble with a dryer sheet. Choose natural fabrics for your most-washed items
: Socks, underwear, workout clothes: these items want a nice sudsy washing between wearings. So make them your priority when buying natural fabrics.