Study: We Ingest More Plastic From Our Clothing Than Seafood, Salt or Bottled Water

Study finds we ingest more than 100 plastic microfibers from our polyester clothing per meal

Recent studies reveal we ingest up to 70 pieces of microplastic for each serving of  mussels, 150 pieces of per bottle of water, and 660 pieces per year in our salt.

But the latest study suggests we may be ingesting more microplastic from our clothing than anywhere else.

We ingest between 13,000 and 68,000 plastic microfibers from our clothing, carpets, curtains and other textiles per year, researchers from Heriot Watt University in the United Kingdom found

That’s because the majority of our clothing (and decor) these days is made out of plastic — whether polyester, acrylic, nylon, lycra or spandex.

And simply rubbing the arm of your sweater can release thousands of plastic microfibers into the air, which then fall onto your plate, or enter your lungs via breathing.

Multiple studies have shown fibers from synthetic clothing make up the vast majority of microplastics found in oceans, rivers and lakes.

One study found that microfibers made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. Another found that they makeup 71% of the debris in tributaries to the Great Lakes.

They get there through our washing machines and back into our bodies either through seafood, salt or drinking water (both bottled and tap), and now, we find, by simply brushing up against fabrics and releasing the fibers into the air.

Unlike natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, synthetic fibers do not biodegrade.

Microplastics are toxic in and of themselves, c0ntaining chemicals like BPA, but become even more toxic as they attract and bind to other harmful chemicals like pesticides and PCBs.

Though tiny, their size is what makes them dangerous. Scientists suspect the microscopic fibers can penetrate right through our gut lining and accumulate in our tissues. This has been observed in marine life.

Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers.

One study, in which crabs were given food contaminated with microfibers, found that they altered animals’ behavior, caused them to eat less food and stunted their growth.

According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, a single load of laundry can release hundreds of thousands of plastic microfibers into the water supply.

A recent study found synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash.

Patagonia and other “eco-friendly” clothing manufacturers like Prana and The North Face are now making polyester clothing out of recycled plastic bottles.

They tout the practice as a way to keep plastic bottles out of the ocean, but some say it does more harm than good.

“Breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all,” reports The Guardian.

That’s because a plastic bottle can be fished out of the sea. Microfiber cannot. Once it’s in the water system, it’s pretty much impossible to filter out.

So, what can we do?

Polyester, acrylic, nylon and other plastic fibers represent about 60% of clothing material worldwide.

Try finding a sweater, t-shirt or pair of jeans in the mall that doesn’t include one of these synthetic materials. You’ll be looking for a long time.

And if you do find clothing made of 100% natural fibers, you’ll find they are often very expensive.

So, what can we do?

Until governments outlaw plastic clothing, the way they’re outlawing so many other plastics, here are some simple ways you can help:

1. Buy natural, eco-friendly fibers. Organic cotton. Hemp. Bamboo. Regenerative wool. Regenerative leather. Silk.

Note: Conventional cotton is also terrible for the environment.

These materials are going to be a lot more expensive, so perhaps  just buy fewer of them. Maybe instead of 8 pairs of polyester leggings and 10 acrylic sweaters, you can have one or two made from humanely-raised alpaca wool.

Because they’re higher quality than polyester “fast fashion,” your investments should last longer as well.

2. Buy a microfiber-catching laundry bag. To mitigate the environmental impact of their polyester clothing, Patagonia sells a microfiber-catching laundry bag called Guppy Friend, which they sell at cost for $30. You can wash all your polyester and acrylic clothes in it and then empty the bag of microfiber like a lint trap.

3. Don’t wash your plastic clothes so often. When you do, wash them on a gentle, cold cycle.

4. Ask manufacturers to produce more natural options. And then make sure to support those options or else they’ll disappear again. One blogger writes about how Prana once carried 100% hemp and 100% organic cotton options, but no longer does because they didn’t sell. Companies will give us what we demand as long as we are willing to pay for it.

Again, it’s all about letting go of the “fast fashion” mentality and buying fewer, higher-quality items that will last longer.

5. Tell your congressperson to pass the Hemp Farming Act. If American farmers are allowed to grow hemp, the cost of this fabric will go way down and supply way up. Hemp is a super eco-friendly plant that actually regenerates damaged soils. Tell them to pass the Hemp Farming Act here.





One response to “Study: We Ingest More Plastic From Our Clothing Than Seafood, Salt or Bottled Water”

  1. Patty Osbern Avatar
    Patty Osbern

    Informative information. Thank you!