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The Problem with Plastic: Microplastics are Everywhere, Including in Your Fashion

Microplastics from fast fashion are polluting our oceans and are entering our bodies. Here's how to fight back with sustainable shopping and washing habits.

Written by
Riley Baker
Ever heard of microplastics? These tiny plastic villains, smaller than a grain of rice, are showing up in some surprising places – our oceans, our food chain, and even in our blood
according to a recent study
in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Microplastic pollution is a serious issue, and the fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, is a major contributor. Those trendy, inexpensive clothes we love? They often shed microplastic fibers whenever they're washed, adding to the growing problem.

Fast Fashion's Microplastic Mess

Think about your latest haul – those cute leggings and cozy fleece throws? Chances are, they're made from synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. These materials release microplastic fibers when they get tossed in the washing machine. A study by the University of California, Santa Barbara found a single laundry load
can release hundreds of thousands of these tiny plastic bits.
These microplastics then end up in our waterways through wastewater treatment plants, many of which aren't equipped to filter out such small particles.
Dr. Matthew Cole, a microplastic pollution expert at the University of Plymouth
, puts it bluntly: "The amount of synthetic clothing being produced and thrown away is staggering. This translates to a massive, ongoing release of microplastics into the environment."
From Ocean to Plate (and Maybe You?)
Once in our oceans, microplastics become a seafood snack.
A 2020 study in Nature Communications
found microplastics in a whopping 80% of wild fish analyzed. These microplastics can travel up the food chain, potentially ending up on our plates (and maybe even in our blood, as that new study suggests). While the long-term health effects of microplastic ingestion in humans are still being researched,
scientists are concerned about potential hormone disruption and other health problems.
How One Fashion Company is Reducing Its' Plastic Pollution
Many clothing companies are taking steps to minimize their plastic pollution. Take
, for example. This sustainable pajama brand, founded by Brightly's Laura Alexander Wittig, prioritizes eco-conscious materials throughout their production process. Their main fabric is TENCEL™ Modal, a luxuriously soft fiber derived from wood pulp that biodegrades quickly, reducing microplastic shedding. But Wildwoven doesn't stop there. Recognizing that their current spandex blend contributes to microplastic pollution, they're actively researching alternative blends made from recycled materials or other innovative solutions.
"It's essential that our signature fabric contains some type of fiber that allows for stretch, because we want our clothes to be able to be worn longer as body sizes can rapidly. That being said, I'm aware of conclusions from the scientific community being drawn about synthetic materials and micro-plastics, so
is actively seeking a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional spandex," says Laura Alexander Wittig, CEO and founder.
Wildwoven's plastic reduction commitment extends beyond the clothes themselves – the brand uses home-compostable or recyclable packaging, in addition to omitting things like plastic tag anchors and plastic-based clothing stamps.
Still, Wittig says, it's not enough. "Fashion continues to be one of the most polluting industries out there, in terms of textile and plastic waste. My job isn't done until Wildwoven is hitting the mark, both in terms of aesthetics and planet-impact neutrality."
Fashion Forward, Not Plastic Polluting
While we're just beginning to uncover the large-scale negative impact of microplastics, there are ways to prevent your exposure to them through fashion. Here's how:
Shop Sustainable: Look for brands committed to eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, linen, or recycled fibers. Some sustainable clothing companies like Wildwoven, Patagonia and more are increasingly examining each aspect of their supply chains. Innovative companies like
Cora Ball
are even exploring innovative solutions like microplastic filters for washing machines and clothes made from biodegradable materials.
Wash Smarter: Wash your clothes less often and in cold water. Hot water can cause synthetic fibers to break down more easily, releasing more microplastics. Consider using
a microfiber-catching laundry ball
when possible.
By making these small changes, we can limit the amount of plastics going from our clothes into the environment. Let's keep our oceans healthy and our wardrobes stylish (and microplastic-free!). Remember, fashion shouldn't cost the planet.