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synthetic microfibers

Synthetic Microfibers: Why You Should Avoid Them

If you care about the environment, you’ve probably been trying to live a plastic free life as much as possible. You might take a reusable shopping bag everywhere, always carry a reusable coffee cup, and lug your stainless steel water bottle with you. But there's one source of plastic pollution that you may not have heard of: synthetic microfibers. There's a growing awareness about how our lifestyle choices are damaging our planet. In the news lately, it's hard to avoid images of the plastic in our oceans. So what's the deal with synthetic microfibers?

The hidden danger

Even those of us who keep up with the environmental news might never have heard of one of the worst pollution sources of all: synthetic microfibers. They’ve been found in both fresh and saltwater life to an alarming extent. A study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara discovered that one fleece jacket releases an average of about 1.7 grams of microfibers per wash. The older and cheaper the garment, the worse it is. The researchers went on to state, “These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes, and oceans.”


Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Australia, stated in a 2011 research paper that microfibers make up around 85% of human made debris on shorelines around the world.

What's the problem with synthetic microfibers?

These tiny little fibres are just the right size for small fish to eat. Then bigger fish eat the small fish, and up the food chain they go, bioaccumulating and concentrating toxins. Professor Sherri Mason of the State University of New York Fredonia, described microfibres as “weaving themselves into the gastrointestinal tract” of one of the Great Lakes fish she studied.



Many environmentally conscious companies recycle plastic bottles into fibres to make cloth, but the evidence suggest that this increases pollution (in a particularly insidious way) instead of helping decrease it. Synthetic microfibers are bad enough in themselves. But the worst part is that they absorb toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which become concentrated in the animal’s tissues. These toxins not only destroy the animals’ lives and habitats, but they also eventually move up the food chain to us.

What can you do?

First of all, shop for good quality clothing and try to make it last. Look for natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool, and bamboo. Go plastic free. You don’t usually need to wash outerwear, such as jackets, after each use. Manufacturers like Patagonia are searching for ways to produce high performance textiles from natural biodegradable materials. In the meantime, you can wash your synthetic clothing (especially those made from polyester, such as fleece) in a superfine mesh laundry bag like the Guppy Friend, which catches the microfibres. A microfibre catching laundry ball is also in development.

Use natural microfibres

It's not just clothes, it's cleaning cloths as well. Bamboo microfibre is 100% biodegradable. You don’t have to worry about it accumulating in the environment since it breaks down after a few years. They do an excellent cleaning job and have natural antimicrobial properties that help keep them germ free and smelling fresh. They’re a great microfibre cleaning cloth choice for your plastic free lifestyle. 

Want to lessen your plastic usage? You can check out more tips on our previous articles like Rethink the Plastic in Your Bathroom and How to Work Towards a Plastic Free Kitchen.

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