Your Plastic Wardrobe…and its effect on the world around us

Recycling – Making Use of Wasted According to this July 2017 article from Forbes Magazine, globally we buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute. That’s 524 billion a year. We recycle a dismal 9% of those. The plastic bottles that do end up getting recycled become the raw material for many of our common everyday items; items like synthetic fabrics, storage containers, and more plastic bottles. Most commonly, fleeces, sweaters, t-shirts, some types of denim, and even insulation for sleeping bags and jackets are made from these micro plastics. Plastic bottles, when recycled, have a practical and useful purpose.

But that’s not the whole story with recycling.

About 60% of each of our wardrobes are made of synthetic, plastic-based fibers like polyester or nylon. With each wash, the fabrics made from these synthetic materials shed thousands of particles into waste water. These particles, microscopic in size, wash through our homes’ drainage systems, past our cities’ water treatment systems, and into our streams, lakes, and oceans. Eventually they end up right back in our homes, in our drinking water and food. They do not break down no matter how much time passes or how microscopic they become.

And that is an often untold part of the story of recycling. With so much of the emphasis over the past decade being upon recycling, very little conversation has happened about the problems with the materials being recycled. While the plastic bottles that do get recycled are getting reused, they aren’t going away. The recycling process takes them from being large plastic bottles to microscopic particles in our ecosystem; problems persist because the materials are synthetic.

The plastic in our wardrobes is becoming the plastic in our ecosystem. And it’s time to stop it from ever leaving our homes.

Where Does Microfiber Pollution Come From?

In the 1940’s, a Dupont engineer came up with a new product called nylon. The new miracle product was a huge advancement at the time. Starting in the 1950’s, fabrics made from synthetic materials (plastic) became commonplace. Women stood in lines to get their hands on a pair of nylons which were much cheaper than their silk counterparts. Several other types of plastic synthetic fibers were developed to take advantage of these low cost, high performance materials. They include acrylic, polyester, rayon, and spandex.

As the popularity of these fabrics grew they have slowly taken over as the material of choice for new textiles. As you can see in the chart below, textile production has grown rapidly since the 1960’s and synthetic production is now outpacing natural fibers.

Chart referenced from Ecotextiles Paper

Starting in 2011, a groundbreaking study conducted by Mark Anthony Browne found tiny fibers in waterways and beach sand. Since then, hundreds of researchers have begun to study this new pollutant.

The consensus in the findings of these reports is that almost all of our waterways have some level of micro-plastics in them, most of which are fibers. They are tracing much of the pollution back to our clothing and other textile sources. Some fibers are airborne when entering the environment. But many come from our washing machines, since wastewater treatment plants cannot remove them all.

Check out our website to learn more about microfiber pollution and what you can do about it.

Filtrol 160 vs. Cora Ball

Filtrol 160 vs. Cora Ball

With all the recent research coming out about microfiber pollution from our clothing, you may be aware of the impact that these tiny pollutants have on our environment.Choosing an in-home solution to combat the microfiber pollution issue is challenging to navigate because so much is unknown about the issue. In an effort to learn more about the options available, we recently conducted an internal review of our product, the Filtrol 160, and several of the other options consumers can use in their homes. The Cora ball is one of the products that we tested. To be fair, this is not a washing machine filter but a small fiber catching ball that you throw in your washing machine. So while it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, we wanted to measure effectiveness.

Testing protocol

We washed 10 loads of typical household laundry to emulate a normal household. The Cora Ball was placed in each load of laundry and we ran the washing machine discharge into our Filtrol. The filter media in the Filtrol was weighed before and after, and the Cora Ball was as well.

Testing results

After completing 10 loads of laundry the Filtrol 160 caught about 24 grams of material, and the Cora Ball caught less than 0.1 gram. 

The Cora Ball seems to work really well for catching hair, but the tentacles on the ball do not seem small enough to catch tiny microfibers which are typically smaller than a human hair.The hair seemed to catch fibers well, once there was enough build up.

Our Recommendation

Our recommendation is this: if you use the Cora Ball, do not clean it very often so the hair and other fibers work to catch more fibers.

The Filtrol 160 catches a very high percentage of fibers in your laundry along with other contaminates such as hair, glitter, and organics.With its 100-micron filter bag, you can know you are doing your part to reduce microfiber pollution.

If you want to see more on this, we filmed the test so you can see it on our YouTube Channel.

6 Ways to Reduce Microfiber Pollution Today

Plastic fibers are in almost every type of textile and clothing produced. According to many studies, about 60% of our clothing is made from synthetic materials. All of our clothing sheds fibers. You can see evidence of this when you reach into your pockets or clean your dryer vent.

These tiny fibers, most of which are smaller than a human hair, are making their way into our waterways. If they’re in our streams, lakes, and oceans, they eventually end up on our dinner plate or in our drinking water. Microfiber pollution is a huge environmental issue, one that can’t be ignored. So, knowing that, there are some things you can do today to reduce the impact of plastic microfiber pollution.

How to Reduce Microfiber Pollution

  1. Wash synthetic cloths less frequently.
  2. Wash full loads which results in less friction between the fabrics.
  3. Use non-toxic liquid soaps. Powders are more abrasive. Here is our favorite liquid detergent.
  4. Use a front-load or high efficiency setting when you wash. Studies have shown front-load washers reduce microfiber shedding.
  5. Buy and wear clothing with natural fibers such as cotton, flax, hemp, bamboo, linen, silk, etc..
  6. And of course you can install a Filtrol 160 or use an in-the-washer solution such as the Guppy Friend

Here is a link to an infographic that shows the microfiber pollution issue full circle.

How Do We Stop Microfiber Pollution?

Synthetic microfibers, made from plastic, have become the go-to material for most of our textiles. If you look at the tags on your clothing, you can see this clearly. Sources in our homes such as our furniture, towels, rags, bedding, carpet, and dryer vents may also be shedding and contributing to this issue. With the plastic microfiber pollution issue being so vast, how can we even start to reduce its impact?

Here are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Be thoughtful on what you buy as a consumer. Check tags and source products or clothing with less or no synthetic fibers. 
  • You can do your laundry less or only when your clothes are truly dirty. We tend to wear something once and then wash it even if it’s not visibly dirty.
  • Consumers tell manufactures what to make by what they purchase. If organic cotton is in higher demand, more of that material will be used. 
  • Clean your laundry room and dryer vent regularly and dispose of the lint in the trash.The landfill is the best place for these plastic fibers as of today. 
  • Use a high efficiency washing machine, they are shown to shed less fibers.
  • Wash with cold water. Warm water has been shown to cause more shedding.
  • Install a Filtrol 160 or other microfiber catching devise to reduce your impact right at the source.

The microfiber pollution issue is so vast, it is hard to know where to start. But we can all make small steps towards reducing their impact by choices we make daily. 

Do Wastewater Treatment Plants Remove Microfibers?

The short answer is…Yes!

Wastewater treatment plants do the best they can to reduce microfiber pollution but… they do not catch them all. Multiple studies have shown a huge range of removal rates of 40-85%. The reason for that is that every treatment plant is different. They all have their own permit limits to discharge into a waterway based on that watershed’s ability to handle the pollutants. Some wastewater treatment plants are very old and are not equipped with the latest filtration technology. Others use new innovate reverse osmosis type filtration. 

A recent study calculated that over 1 million tons of plastic microfibers enter our wastewater treatment plants every year!!

But even if your local wastewater plant catches all the fibers, a little known secret is they end up in the sludge. Many times, this sludge is land applied for agricultural purposes which just puts the issue back onto fields. Runoff and wind can then reintroduce these fibers back into our waterways.

The costs to upgrade wastewater plants is astronomical and probably not a viable solution to this issue. Even if they remove all the fibers, it’s still held in the sewage sludge which needs proper disposal. The best way to reduce microfiber pollution is to stop it at its source in your own home. This plastic fibers can be filtered and disposed of properly in your waste basket.