A while ago I wrote a post called I failed and feel guilty too. This post was about trying to do the best for the environment but often stumbling because I am faced with a wicked problem. At the time I was concerned that my current wardrobe had a large proportion of synthetic clothing and was therefore contributing to the estimated 1.4 quadrillion microfibres littering the ocean as a result of laundering our clothes.
That number is so large I can’t even give you a relative example. On a more comprehendible scale a 2017 study by Browne et al. estimated one fleece garment could release approximately 110,000 fibers per wash. In our house we probably do between seven to ten loads of washing a week!
Since that post I have purchased two microfibre catchers, a Guppyfriend and a Cora Ball, to catch some of the pollution my clothing is causing (because the alternative to not wearing the clothing is that it would need to be thrown away, hence a wicked problem).
The Guppyfriend washing bag is the first pragmatic solution that prevents microplastic fibres from entering rivers and oceans through the washing of synthetic textiles. The broken fibres collect in the corners of the washing bag after washing and can be easily removed and disposed of.http://www.guppyfriend.com
Cora Ball swooshes around in the laundry and just like coral, allows water to flow, while picking up those little pieces of microfiber and catching them in her stalks. Independent tests investigating the effectiveness of the Cora Ball out of Dr. Chelsea Rochman’s lab at the University of Toronto (McIlwraith 2019) and University of Plymouth (Napper 2020) showed the Cora Ball prevents 26% and 31% of microfibers from flowing down the drain respectively.http://www.coraball.com
I purchased the Cora Ball first and found it was really good at catching larger fibres but not so good at catching smaller fibres, probably why the testing showed only up to 31% of microfibres were caught in the ball.
The Guppyfreind on the other hand, being a closed bag seemed to catch more fibres but it still wasn’t filing up the corners of the bag like on the website tutorials. What you can see in the above photo is from many washes. This could most likely be attributed my newer, frontloading washing machine, which tend to help clothes shed less. Well that’s what I thought anyway….
Because here we are, three years after that initial post and apparently I’ve slipped back into my old habits. I stumbled across a little goldmine of an op shop and loaded myself up with warm winter jumpers. In the mix was a jumper I’d selected to be my around the house bestie. It was warm, cosy and oversized. It also happened to be made from polyester but finding it increasingly harder to find 100% natural fibres in the op shop I put that downfall aside.
All I can say is thank goodness I used my Guppyfriend to wash it in as here’s what happened after the first wash:
This is the inside of the bag and all of that green fuzz is the shedding from the jumper, which is 100% polyester. The photo doesn’t really do it justice. The bag was COVERED in fibres.
Not only that, here is the t-shirt I was wearing underneath, also covered:
This was a conundrum! Firstly how was I supposed to get all the microfibre fuzz from the bag and the t-shirt into the bin? The inside of the bag was covered in it! Secondly what do I do with the jumper now? I can’t keep wearing it as I’ll forever be faced with the first problem. I can’t give it back to the op shop as it will just move the problem onto someone else. Is landfill the only option?
I wracked my brain and the only way I could think to remove the fuzz without washing it down the sink (back to square one!) was to vacuum both the bag and the t-shirt. This removed most of the fuzz from the t-shirt but only about half from inside of bag. I was content with this for now because as long as the fibres were on the inside they wouldn’t be entering the waterways.
What did I learn?
- That clothing DOES shed in the wash, we just don’t see it.
- The Guppyfriend DOES work and I should use it everytime I wash synthetic clothing (to date I have not been doing this).
- That polyester clothing IS awful for the environment and poses a threat to waterways.
- That I need to be more careful with my clothing purchases, regardless of how comfy the jumper is.
- The only use left for this jumper is to perhaps upcycle it into something else that won’t need washing… got any ideas?
On a side note I had the realisation that the cloth nappies I use are made from microfibre and therefore shedding during the wash cycle but I cannot contain them inside the Guppyfriend as it would literally turn into a bag of shit and piss because it is designed to only let water escape and nothing else. So while I’m trying to address one environmental problem (waste from disposable nappies), I’m directly contributing to another problem (micoplastics in the oceans)!