Microfiber pollution: What they are and how to help

In Fashion Features, Student Mingle, Sustainable Fashion by Scarlet Jenkins

Microfibers have a huge effect on our environment. So let’s start from the basics, what are microfibers? 

Microfibers are microscopic strands of material released from washing synthetic materials. Essentially they are teeny tiny pieces of plastic that are released when a synthetic piece of clothing is washed in a washing machine.

You may be thinking, why do they matter then if they’re so small? Every day these microscopic pieces of plastic are being washed into our oceans and rivers. According to Greenpeace, just one piece of clothing can release 700,000 fibers in one wash. If that’s the amount from just one wash of one piece of clothing, then just think about how many microfibers are in our oceans and rivers right now. 

The problem with these microfibers, like any piece of plastic, is that they live for hundreds of years and are very hard to get rid of once they are created. They cause a detrimental effect on our environment and contribute massively to ocean pollution rates. 

As mentioned above, washing synthetic clothing is the main source of the problem. According to the journal Environmental Science & Technology, 60% of clothing worldwide today is synthetic, including materials such as nylon, polyester, acrylic, and spandex. 

So what can we do to help?

We can’t just stop the creation of microfibers all together, but there are simple steps we can take to help:

Firstly, reduce the number of clothes we buy. The fast-fashion phenomenon (read more about it here), has changed the fashion industry as we know it. Clothes nowadays get made at extremely fast speeds and we rarely use natural fibers. 

We need to buy more natural fibers, and there are plenty of clothing brands that work with natural materials, for example, Xoomba.

Xoomba, is a clothing brand based in Burkina Faso that sells clothes made with only natural materials, ‘we have chosen to work with rainfed, organic and fair trade cotton, grown in Burkina Faso and to process that cotton into textiles locally.’ 

You can also help by washing our clothes at lower temperatures because higher temperatures release more microfibers. Another great option is to use a liquid detergent, as tablets rub the clothes more which releases more fibers. 

Finally, fill up your washing machine because that reduces friction, and it also means you’re putting on a wash less frequently which also helps! 

For more tips, check out Plastic Pollution Coalition!


About Scarlet Jenkins

Scarlet is currently a junior Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences student from the University of Birmingham, majoring in Geography and Journalism, who has just returned from a year abroad at San Francisco State University. In her spare time, she loves to travel and explore new places.

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