Microplastics And Fashion

We all try to be Earth friendly, right? We already know to bring our own bags to the grocery store, to refuse the straw in our favorite drinks and that reducing the prevalence of these kinds of items will lessen the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, or floating in the sea. 

What people are rarely aware of though, is that our clothing creates a massive amount of microplastic pollution. A 2011 study published by Environmental Science & Technology found that microfibers account for 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. So, the sand on your favorite beach is quite literally part plastic. 

Grains of sand with tiny colorful plastic pieces mixed in 
In this installment of our Eco Blog series, we are going to look at the microplastic pollution created by the clothing we wear. As always, our goal is to inform and empower you, the reader, to know that there are options and solutions to the world's environmental issues. We each really do have the power to make a positive difference in the world. 

First, what are microplastics? Tiny plastic particles on the tip of person's finger

Microplastics are the small pieces of plastic, often they fragment off of plastic products when they are thrown away and start to degrade. This could be a piece of trash floating in the ocean that disintegrates due to exposure from the sun and salt water (or soda bottles, shampoo bottles, milk jugs, etc.). Over time, these single use plastics, break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they become microplastics. Once these tiny plastic particles are in the environment, there is really no way to remove them.

Additionally, they can originate from synthetic fabrics like polyester, acrylic, nylon, elastane and spandex. These petroleum based fabrics are commonly used to make activewear and fast fashion. This was our primary motivation for creating a clothing line made of natural, plant based fabrics

Your (synthetic) Clothing Is Spewing Toxins Into the Environment

Although microplastics end up in the environment in a number of ways, one of the biggest sources is from our clothing. According to Greenpeace, polyester alone is now used in about 60% of our clothes. Did you know that each and every time you wash a load of laundry, it releases tiny particles into the waste water? These particles travel from our homes into local lakes and streams, traveling to the oceans and contaminating wildlife and our drinking water on the way. Yet, most people have never even considered the impact their clothing has on the environment.
Shiny synthetic toxic swim suit
These microscopic fibers, not visible to the naked eye, are most often generated when fabric material degrades. These tiny fragments are anywhere from the size of a grain of rice, to smaller than the width of a human hair. They have long been ignored by industry, governments and consumers simply because they are not easily seen. 
Anytime fabric fibers come into contact with water, whether it is during production or in your home washing machine, the tiny ends come off. For example, think of that favorite T-shirt that you've been wearing and washing for many years that is now lighter, thinner and softer than it used to be. This is because it has shed some of its fibers. Part of that shirt has literally gone down the drain. A single load of laundry releases millions of these microfibers and multiple studies confirm that they are now a part of the world's water supply. 
Washing machines in laundry mat

The big difference is that natural, plant based clothing sheds natural microfibers that will be degraded, digested and disappear into the environment very quickly; as opposed to synthetic microfibers. Synthetic microfibers will remain in the environment and float around for ages.

It has been estimated that microfiber emissions could grow by over 50 percent in the next decade, as the business of synthetic textiles continues to boom. These fabrics not only release microfibers, but they also contain Bisphenol A. BPA is a chemical compound commonly used in the manufacturing of synthetic fabrics use in fleece, swimwear and yoga clothes (but not ours, ours are 90% cotton).

What Does Lotus Tribe Do About Microplastics?

To help fight microplastics, Lotus Tribe uses natural plant based fabrics for all of our yoga wear. These are not only better for the environment, but feel better and allow your skin to breathe. We also ship our orders in entirely plastic free packaging to cut down on packaging waste that is most often made of plastic. 

Full disclosure: Our stretchy yoga wear and clothing is made of fabrics that are either 90% tree pulp viscose or 90% cotton with 10% spandex fabric. So even though its not 100% natural fiber, it is 90% better than traditionally made yoga wear. We know you there must be some stretch in your yoga clothes, so we aim to offer the best solution.

This 10% spandex can leach microplastic particles into the world's waterways and as such, we suggest using the GuppyFriend washing bag. You can put your Lotus Tribe clothing in this, to catch the 10% of spandex that can shed microplastic particles. It's great for all your swimsuits and synthetic clothing you already own too (because now that you know, you won't buy that stuff again, right?) It's easy to use and integrate into your existing laundry routine. 

Final Thoughts

So, now you know a little more about what microplastics are and how the fast fashion industry contributes to this growing global issue. You also know why, we, as a brand have chosen specifically to not participate in this practice. Making informed choices when shopping for clothing is the first step in combatting the problem. We hope you too will make choices to live as lightly on Mother Earth as possible and know that shopping with Lotus Tribe is always an eco friendly choice.