Why we care?
The beach is a transformative place that makes you feel calm and carefree. A place to take a long walk, go swimming, surfing, scuba diving and sailing. It’s no surprise people tend to spend their free time near water.
We are lucky to be living in Santa Cruz, California. We have developed a physical and emotional connection with the ocean. We draw inspiration from it. There is an attraction to the colors, textures, sounds and curious creatures—particularly sea otters, seals, dolphins and whales—above and below. It is easy to become enchanted by the beauty and mysteries it carries. What is not obvious, is the destruction that humans are doing to this valuable ecosystem. Especially in the clothing industry.
Our oceans are one of our most important assets we have as a species. The oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface, contains 97% of the Earth’s water and is 99% of the planets living space. It provides oxygen from aquatic plant life and soaks up carbon we emit. The ocean provides life. Yet as a whole, we continue to poison this precious resource with toxins and plastics.
Plastic in our oceans
For years we have heard about large clusters of garbage floating in the ocean containing plastic. It is a scary and overwhelming thought. Most plastics are non biodegradable. The lifespan of a single plastic water bottle is 450 years. When larger plastics reach the ocean, natural elements like sunlight, waves and salt water break down the material into tiny pieces. These pieces are called microplastics. Microplastics are small plastic particles that are less than 5mm in diameter. The North Atlantic has an estimated 3,440 metric tons of mircoplastics. In reality that great garbage patch is more of a swamp filled with tiny pieces of plastics.
An aspect of plastic pollution that is not widely discussed is microfiber pollution. Microfiber pollution is rapidly spreading. It has major affects on the marine ecosystem and consequently human health.
What are microfibers?
Microfibers are plastic particles—Same category as mircoplastics— that are fibrous in shape. Synthetic fabrics like rayon, spandex, nylon, acrylic and polyester make up these fibers. Polyester is cost effective, high-performing, and versatile. Making it extremely useful for the clothing industry. Most outerwear, swimwear and activewear—thats right, the fun stuff— contains synthetic fabric. Think yoga pants and fleece jackets.
How do they get into the ocean?
Once in the hands of the consumer these products are used then thrown in the wash. During the washing process tiny fibers shed off clothing and into the water. Which is then sent to a water treatment plant. The particles are so tiny they move through the treatment plant and into the environment.
Once these fibers make their way into the ocean, fish and other wildlife consume them. In time, humans consume those same fish and wildlife. As the saying goes, you are what you eat and we are eating our own garbage.
Are microfibers harmful?
From start to finish these fibers can be highly toxic. Large quantities of chemicals are used during the manufacturing process of clothing. These chemicals are released along with the fibers during washing. The tiny plastic fibers also act as a sponge and soak up everything around them. Binding with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater. Pollutants from industry and agriculture like flame retardants and pesticides.
What happens when these fibers are ingested?
These plastic particles can be microscopic allowing plankton and larval fish to consume them. Research proves that microplastics travel up the food-chain. Where larger animals are ingesting larger accumulations. When animals eat plastic they are also consuming the toxins attached to the plastic. Toxins pass into the bloodstream and bioaccumulate in fatty tissue and around vital organs. When animals use stored fat, the toxins circulate through the body and affect reproduction, metabolism, growth, kidney and liver function.
Sixty-four fish for human consumption in California and Indonesia were studied by researches at UC Davis. A quarter of the fish contained debris in their guts. The fish in California contained plastic and textile fibers. Not only is plastic being found in our seafood but in products like sea salt. Plastic may also be in our drinking water. Research and awareness is slowly gaining momentum. Yet it is unnerving to think how little is known about the short and longterm affects of plastic ingestion on human health.
How many fibers are released during washing?
More than 4,500 fibers can be released per gram of clothing per wash, according to the Plastic Soup Foundation. Remember that fleece jacket? Researches from the University of California Santa Barbara discovered synthetic jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers when washed. Of those fibers 40% enter rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Another report done by the International Universities Networking Conferencesstates 15–30% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by household and industrial products. These fibers are an invasive pollutant that are aggressively spreading. They are everywhere in aquatic environments including the seashore. They are also in rivers, lakes—2nd most common type of debris in Lake Michigan—on land, and in the atmosphere. By 2025 ten times more plastic each year is estimated to be dumped into our waterways.
So what can we do?
Since synthetic fabrics are so versatile and prominent. It is unrealistic to think we can rid the world of them. It is essential to encourage and execute proper recycling. Lets keep plastic out of landfills and our oceans. As individuals we can reduce and avoid single use and individually packaged items. These include straws, plastic cutlery, plastic bags, and coffee cups. Did you know that single-use coffee pods, tea bags and dryer sheets all contain plastics?
We need to think about our transactions and start taking action. Buy only what you need and make it last. Fast fashion products are made with cheaper fabrics. Fabrics that shed more, due to the length of fiber and how they are spun.
Invest in a front-loading machine. Top-loading washing machines have 5.3 times the microfiber shedding than front-loading machines. Be aware of how often you are washing. Try to wash less—it will make your clothes last longer—and fill up your load. A full load creates less friction between clothes, so fewer floating fibers. Use liquid over powder detergent. Powder scrubs and loosens fibers. Use cold water over hot to reduce damage. Bonus, 90% of energy consumed by a washing machine is used to heat the water. Washing with cold water has proven to be as effective for everyday laundry. So switching to cold is a no-brainer.
Lets continue to educate ourselves and the people around us. So we can push producers, consumers, waste managers, and policymakers to address the issue of microfiber pollution. It is critical that legislation supports efforts towards smart design, engineering and technology. We need textiles that shed fewer fibers. We need household appliances with proper filters that effectively capture fibers. As a whole we need to change the way we design, produce, consume and dispose.
What we do at Goose Organic?
At Goose Organic we focus on making high quality clothing. Made from high quality raw materials. That are durable, soft and require little chemical process. Materials like organic cotton, hemp and linen. We aren't perfect but we are striving to do and be better.
We know that it is fundamental to reuse, repair and recycle. That is why we make all our products from natural and recycled materials. Instead of plastic, we make our sunglasses out of bamboo. We use recycled polyester fabric made out of waste materials. Making it a better alternative. By reusing something that has already been extracted from the Earth. Keeping larger and smaller plastics out of our ocean. We know that higher quality clothing sheds less than low quality. So we encourage consumers to invest in quality products meant to last.
Remember that every piece truly does count and we can make a difference. Please help spread the word by sharing on social media below.