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Plastic clothes?

Plastic clothes?
 by Isabel M.

I LOVE shopping. I particularly love clothes shopping. And I've made a career out of persuading other people to shop. But since I started researching plastics it's really take the shine off this once favourite pastime.

The manufacture and distribution of new clothes is both resource intensive and creates a lot of waste. It also involves a lot of plastic, much which is hidden - for example the individual plastic bags garments are shipped in from the manufacturer before they reach the store - and there is an awful lot of other waste.

Then there's the actual clothing itself.

Friends of the Earth estimate that up to 64% of clothes are made from synthetic fibres like polyester, acrylic, nylon. These are all plastic.

When washed these fabrics shed microfibres - these are microplastics, very small pieces of plastic. Each wash cycle creates hundreds of thousands of microplastics which end up in rivers and oceans or spread onto farmland and enter our food chain. In addition, a study by Heriot-Watt University found that we actually ingest more microplastics from our home environment and our clothes where microfibres are shed during wear. So far there is little research to confirm the affect these microplastics have on our health.

It would be fair to say that I've not yet fully broken my shopping habit but it's been massively curtailed after realising the impact of my purchases. If buying new I try really hard to only buy fabrics made of natural material (cotton, bamboo, etc) and items that will last as natural fibres to have their own environmental cost. I have also refound the joy that is secondhand clothes.

The solutions? As it's not practical to get rid of all my existing synthetic fabrics, I've been trying out a Cora ball which is designed to catch 30% of microfibres created in each wash. There's also the Guppyfriend wash bag, but both of these are pricey. A British designer Adam Roots (Inheriting Earth) is hoping to launch a filter that can be retrofitted to washing machines.

It has rarely been in the interest of retailers to highlight such issues to consumers - their job is make money by driving demand, hiding the true cost of our consumption. This means that the demand for change must come from the consumer by becoming better informed, changing habits and raising our expectations for responsible retailing.



  1. https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics/microfibres-plastic-our-clothes
  2. https://eluxemagazine.com/magazine/recycled-plastic-clothing/
  3. https://returntonow.net/2018/11/02/plastic-clothing-microfibers/
  4. https://researchportal.hw.ac.uk/en/publications/low-levels-of-microplastics-mp-in-wild-mussels-indicate-that-mp-i
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jun/29/microfibers-plastic-pollution-apparel-oceans
  6. https://news.sky.com/story/inventor-hopes-washing-machine-filter-will-save-oceans-from-microplastics-11397669

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