Clothes are hidden sources of plastic

Maaike de Boer
Maaike de Boer
  • Updated

The fashion industry itself has a huge impact on the environment. It is responsible for 20 per cent of global wastewater, 10 per cent of carbon emissions and huge amounts of waste. Every second, one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or incinerated. If that wasn't enough, our clothing is also polluting the ocean with plastic.

About 60 per cent of material made into clothing is plastic, which includes polyester, acrylic and nylon textiles. These synthetic fabrics are lightweight, durable, affordable and flexible. But here’s the catch: every time they're washed, they shed tiny plastic fibres called microfibres, a form of microplastics—tiny pieces up to five millimetres in size.

Laundry alone causes around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres to be released into the ocean every year—the equivalent of almost three billion polyester shirts. This happens because water treatment plants let up to 40 per cent of microfibres they receive into lakes, rivers and the ocean due to their small size. Most treatment plants are not mandated to capture microfibres.

Microfibres and other microplastics, which make their way up the food chain when they are mistaken for food by fish and other marine animals, often carry concerning contaminants such as toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals. The effects of microplastic ingestion on marine life are catastrophic; they have caused starvation, endocrine disruption, stunted growth in some species and broken down digestive systems.

Choose clothes that are made of sustainable organic materials to reduce this impact.

Even clothes made from organic materials contain hidden plastics. Often the thread used to sew the hems of garments is polyester which is used for its strength and durability. Similarly the sewn in labels are commonly made of polyester or other non-sustainable materials.

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