An Industry Working to Solve a Global Problem
To say that pollution is the biggest threat to the environment is to say that the sky is blue. It’s obvious and almost everyone would agree to that. The smoke that comes from our vehicles to the trash we dump in the ocean are just some of the culprits in the furthering decay of our planet and we owe it to the coming generations to find a way to clean our only home.
But there are other contributors to the pollution in the planet that some of us are not aware of and it’s important that we learn more about this so that we can more effectively protect the environment.
The small scourge of the planet
The textile industry is by far the least famous culprit when it comes to marine pollution but it’s just as destructive as all the other materials that poison the seas. What makes textile a formidable foe of the planet is the plastics that come from it and how even the minute particles that fall off of it can destroy marine life.
According to scientists, a lot of apparels have microscopic plastic materials that fall off and find their way to our oceans. Patagonia conducted a research looking into this situation and they discovered that microfibers that come from their apparel end up in the ocean. Clothes with fabrics such as polyester fleece tend to break off microscopic fibres that end up in the ocean and these particles sometimes find their way into the digestive tracts of marine animals.
Their investigation further revealed that even a single synthetic garment can shed thousands of synthetic microfibers and those fibres can be ingested by marine animals, which in turn can be ingested by humans. The University of Exeter conducted an extensive research looking into the impact of microfibers on aquatic animals and they discovered that crabs that ingested these fibres ate less compared to those who did not. As a result, those crabs with ingested microfibers had stunted growth.
So the threat of synthetic microfibers is real and it can affect both animals and humans but what exactly are the preventative measures that the apparel industry can do to curb this growing threat?
Keeping microfibers at bay
According to Patagonia’s research microscopic fibres end up in the ocean due to how we wash our clothes and how our sewage system works. Most of the stuff we dump in our toilets or down the drain end up in the ocean and the microfibers from synthetic apparels often takes this route as well. But there are simple ways to prevent this from happening and it all starts with how we choose our clothes and how we wash them.
According to Patagonia’s research, by simply using a different kind of washing machine this can already minimize the breaking off of microfibers from synthetic apparels. The researchers discovered that clothes washed in top load washing machines are more prone to shedding off microfibers as compared to front load washing machines.
All synthetic apparel is prone to shedding off microfibers during washing but when they are placed in a top load washing machine the amount of microfibers is five times more than other apparels placed in front load washing machines. Also, the quality of the apparel affects the amount of microfibers that get shed off. High quality synthetic apparel has tougher fabric, which makes it harder for the microfibers to come off.
A more stringent approach that scientists are proposing is that appliance companies employ more effective filters to ensure that microfibers won’t get mixed into the water that comes from washing machines and enters the drain. But scientists are sceptical about this remedy because there are no proposals yet on how to dispose those microfibers properly. Even though there are companies building specialized filters the microfibers will still end up in landfills and thereby might still make their way to the oceans just by another route.
One other remedy scientists are thinking of is building waterless washing machines. According to Patagonia, Tersus Solutions, a company based in Colorado, has developed a waterless washing machine that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to clean clothes. This machine is capable of cleaning synthetic clothes without breaking off too many microfibers thereby ensuring that these materials won’t end up polluting the environment.
Now advocates of pure organic cotton clothes have yet to declare that their apparel is less likely to pollute the oceans and the environment since cotton is the least toxic material known to man. But most clothing companies that use organic cotton cannot claim that their clothes are made of 100% pure organic cotton since clothes that are like that still use polyester to some degree because cotton is too brittle on its own.
But there are some companies trying to find a way to develop clothes that are 100% pure organic cotton and though their research hasn’t provided concrete results the outlook seems promising. Microfibers are a real threat to our environment and to ourselves but the textile industry has started acknowledging this problem and it’s looking for ways to curb this dilemma from totally destroying our planet’s oceans.
But it’s not only the textile industries and appliance companies that can help keep microfibers from reaching our oceans. By adhering to the simple preventative measures that Patagonia and other textile companies have provided every person is capable of keeping our oceans safe for all marine animals and even all humans.