Why microfibers are the new microbeads

Why microfibers are the new microbeads

Why microfibers are the new microbeads. Microfibers are a disproportionately large problem for such tiny strands of fabric.

But what exactly are they?

Microfiber towels may feel like they are made from cloth but are made from plastic.

Natural gas is used to create plastics that are spun into fibers.

These fibers are weaved into a cloth that is great for doing things like picking up dust or dirt.

Sometimes, these are made from recycled plastics, but other times are made from totally virgin materials.

Why might microfibers be an issue for the environment

Every time we wash a piece of clothing made from synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon or acrylic, a wave of microplastic – so small you can barely see them – is unleashed into the water supply.

President of the National Recycling Coalition, Bob Gedert explains it better.

“It ruins the batch of plastics when you have an immature plastic melt where some of it is melting at a certain temperature and some is not”.

Why microfibers are the new microbeads

“You get a clump; it’s not a pure, homogeneous mixture of liquid plastic, and therefore it’s not a plastic that can be regenerated into a new product.”

Shelie Miller, an associate professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. She says: “Some of the fibers, some of the little plastic threads can come off in the washing machine and go into our water system.”

“This is what environmentalists are concerned with now is microfibers ending up in marine ecosystems in some streams where fish and other aquatic species end up ingesting them.”

Stay focused on the Environment 

The problem with microfibers shedding from our clothes is not an easy one to fix.

Unlike microbeads, the fibers from our clothes cannot simply be eliminated from the supply chain.

Last November, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report calling for an overhaul of the entire textile industry.

In A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, the foundation calls for ‘substances of concern and microfiber release’ to be phased out.

An added problem is that microfibers are released from recycled polyester too.

Are there alternatives fabrics that won’t shed tiny plastic fibers any time you wash them?

Founder of the non-profit company that specialises in promoting sustainable and innovative fibers, Sustainable Angle, Nina Marenzi thinks so.

Design teams are studying fabrics that are made from a whole range of plentiful waste from coffee grounds to orange and apple peel, all of which offer a cleaner and more sustainable substitute for the textiles currently in use.

When it comes to polyester alternatives, Marenzi is excited aboutt a textile made from the castor oil plant, called GreeOblige, made from textile company Sofileta.

“The castor oil plant grows with little inputs necessary, and on marginal land, [making it] a good alternative fibre.” Tencel is biodegradable and made from renewable FSC eucalyptus pulp by German textile giant Lenzing.

Their innovation Refibra uses Tencel’s eco process but it recycles cotton waste. This makes it an important tool in creating a closed loop fashion and textile industry.

There are some things that we can do
  • We can start by buying fewer synthetic clothes. But if you do, buy the best quality available. They last longer.
  • Avoid washing synthetics unnecessarily.  Wash at lower temperatures.
  • Buy a Guppy Friend washing bag – a mesh bag that sits in your washing machine and captures microfibers before they enter the water cycle.

It may seem like a small step. But small actions can make a big difference.

Why microfibers are the new microbeads

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